Palin Overstates Energy Reserves

At her first campaign appearance of her day on Wednesday the 29th, Governor Sarah Palin told the crowd that she helped break the stand-off between the state of Alaska and oil companies interested in developing a natural gas pipeline to the 48 contiguous US States. Taking a brief jab at recently convicted Republican Senator Ted Stevens, Palin claimed to have clashed with her party and to have played an instrumental role in the process.

According to the Governor, the pipeline would be crucial to ending our foreign oil dependency. This project, Mrs. Palin said, would allow all of America to benefit from Alaska’s vast natural gas reserves, which she estimated in her speech “several hundred trillion cubic feet”. The real picture is far more grim than that. Granted, the Governor was using a rather vague figure, but “several hundred” sounds like 15-20 times more than the actual number, 31.86 trillion cubic feet which the Department of Energy predicts to be the total located in Alaska1. That doesn’t mean that a company can simply drill on a plot of land and obtain that much, finding reserves is more complicated than that, and some of it may be located in a place that simply is not cost effective. Keep in mind too that 1000 cubic feet of natural gas is only equivalent in energy yield to about 1.687 barrels of oil.2

Of course, one can hardly blame Mrs. Palin for trying to overstate the impact to be had by the pipeline about which she is bragging, and it is nearly universally acknowledged that natural gas will have to contribute even more greatly to our energy production for the near future. Overstating things by as much as twenty-fold is a stretch though. One might wonder how Sarah Palin who claims to have been extensively involved in regulating the natural gas production of Alaska could have gotten this so badly wrong. If this were an isolated incident, it would be easy to dismiss. However, there is a school of thought in the world, one to which Mrs. Palin proudly subscribes, that believes Alaska can be an instant energy savior and the only things standing in the way are the objections of a few “tree-huggers”. This simply is not true. Trumping up Alaska’s significant but not particularly impressive reserves, as the Governor did, will only hide the fact that the finite nature of fossil fuels makes the typical suburban America lifestyle unsustainable.

Thanks to CNN who televised the appearance live.

  1. Department of Energy data on domestic reserves.
  2. Conversion factors for various fuels.
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