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Americas Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Energy wars in the USA
Oilmen of Midland, Texas on the golf course
The President of the United States, George W Bush, has pledged to maintain the energy-rich American way of life - whatever it takes. On a journey that takes him from Texas to Arizona, Julian Pettifer talks to the oil barons and to the eco-warriors and uncovers both sides of the energy argument.

 Listen to this programme in full

My journey to the American South West took me first to Midland, Texas where President Bush spent part of his youth and where he later returned to found his own oil company.

The Background
The USA consumes nearly a quarter of all energy used
It produces about 25% of emissions
First comprehensive energy review since Carter administration
While Carter stressed conservation, Bush wants to maximise production

Midland is an important centre of the oil and gas industry in the middle of a region known as the Permian Basin, which produces 20% of all the energy consumed in the US.

I met a group of oilmen as they played a round of golf, and I went with them to lunch at the Petroleum Club, a grandiose establishment that is the social and business hub of Midland.

They all spoke warmly of George Dubya (as they called him) and enthused about his energy policy. They were particularly happy at the proposal that more public land may be opened up for exploration and exploitation.

They felt sure that the Bureau of Land Management, the responsible Federal Authority, will be under pressure to relax environmental constraints and grant them more leases.

Even a part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska should be opened up to drilling. They were unanimous in their approval of the withdrawal from the Kyoto accords and in dismissing the worst fears about global warming "based on junk science" according to one of them.

Otero Mesa peril

The Permian Basin covers 100 square miles, much of it desert, in West Texas and South Eastern New Mexico.

It was in 1923 that they first struck oil and from that day the oil rush was on. At my next stop, Carlsbad New Mexico, I visited the Otero Mesa, one of the last remnants of fragile desert grassland that so far has been protected but is now threatened by the discovery there of a large untapped natural gas reserve.

Environmentalists Steve West and Greta Balderrama
I visited the Otero Mesa with environmental campaigner Greta Baldarrama; but she and a colleague, Steve West, took me first to a similar stretch of country where gas is currently being extracted.

It was not a pretty sight. On the wide rocky hillsides with their scant vegetation, the gas installations become the most prominent features.

There is serious scarring and erosion from road construction.

But almost the worst feature was the offensive smell that overpowered us as we opened the car window. I cannot imagine hiking or birdwatching in such an area can be much fun.

Fossil fuel facts
Most energy used comes from coal, oil and natural gas
Fossil fuels each year release around 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide
Emissions will continue to rise unless there is vigorous action to conserve energy, improve efficiency and develop renewable sources.

When we reached the fragrant and tranquil beauty of the Otero Mesa it was at once obvious why there is such a determined effort to save it from the drilling rigs, but it may not be successful. Environmentalists are fearful that in the wake of the Bush Energy Policy, the pressure is on to grant leases.

New gas wells

Certainly the oilmen in Carlsbad are full of confidence. Raye Miller of the Marbob Energy Corporation took me to see new gas wells that had just gone into production.

He argued fiercely that new technology allows drilling to proceed with far less collateral damage than in the past; and that the landscape and wildlife recovered once the gas or oil is exhausted.

Power proposals

My final stop was in Arizona where the energy debate has a different focus.

Mr Bush's plan calls for a huge expansion in power plant construction, a proposal that has been underlined by the present electricity shortages in California. Arizona, which already has 20 new, power plants either being built or planned, is wondering how many more to expect.

In Gilbert, part of greater Phoenix, I met Melissa, Amy and Eryn - all upset by the planned expansion to a local gas-fired power station.

There are also fears in some quarters - strongly denied by the regulators - that Arizona is becoming "a power farm for California which doesn't like growing its own".

Living "off the grid"

Bill and Mary Webber live in the Civano community
Not surprisingly, perhaps, local activists argue that Arizona, with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, should be investing much more in solar energy rather than burning fossil fuels.

I visited the Civano Community in Tucson where private initiative has already gone a long way towards energy independence.

Mary and Bill Webber showed me around their beautiful home where a third of the power comes from solar panels on the garage roof .

When Mary turned off the air conditioning, I was startled to see the metre go into reverse as the Webbers sold power back to the grid.

Bush and the Kyoto agreement
Mr Bush has caused international dismay by withdrawing from the Kyoto agreement.
He warns that reducing emissions will damage the US economy
Recent opinion polls suggest the president is losing favour, partly because of his attitude to the environment

If every home were similarly equipped, according to some calculations, there would be no need for any more power stations.

At a meeting of other residents of Civano, the opinions expressed about The National Energy Plan were the exact opposite to those heard in Midland; and Mr Bush was roundly condemned for deserting the Kyoto accords.

The "greenies" and the "oilies" agreed about one thing only: that Americans are addicted to cheap and abundant energy and that it is a habit they will have to kick.

Bill Stewart
President of Pinnacle West Energy, in charge of Palo Verde Nuclear Power
Webber family
and what it's like to live in the Civano community
Environmentally friendly car goes wrong
See also:

30 May 01 | Americas
30 May 01 | Americas
18 May 01 | Science/Nature
18 May 01 | Business
18 May 01 | Business
18 May 01 | Americas
17 May 01 | Americas
Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

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