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Gazette Premium Content Anti-fracking activists threaten to slow energy independence

The Gazette editorial Updated: August 6, 2013 at 10:50 am

Front Range activists continue their war on fracking with protests and petitions seeking new anti-energy laws. A group submitted 3,382 petition signatures Friday asking Broomfield, just east of Boulder, to put a fracking ban on the November ballot.

Anti-fracking activists may have a powerful new ally overseas. Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal would undoubtedly like them to succeed, as the industry they target poses a huge problem for him.

Forbes ranks Alwaleed as the world's 26th richest person, with a net worth of $20 billion, but Alwaleed insists he's worth closer to $30 billion. Either way, the American-educated member of the Saudi royal family is considered by some as the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia. He uses money to influence the world's geopolitical order. If Alwaleed hasn't funded anti-fracking activism, he probably will.

After the September 11 attacks, Alwaleed presented then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with a $10 million check. It was given with a statement that said "the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause." Giuliani returned the check.

Alwaleed donated tens of millions to a 2002 anti-Israeli telethon that was believed to benefit Palestinian suicide bombers and other martyrs.

We need Arabian oil to function; Saudis need our dependence to fund their economy. Saudi Arabia's hostility toward Israel makes the co-dependency a tenuous and unhealthy relationship. Foreign oil addiction has helped keep us in a near-constant state of war and has Arabian countries overly dependent on Americans as a source of capital. Oil accounts for about 80 percent of the Saudi government's revenues, 90 percent of export revenues and 45 percent of the country's GDP. The monarchy races to diversify the economy.

So what keeps Alwaleed up at night? Fracking, in places like North Dakota and Colorado. Reuters reported last week that Alwaleed sent an open letter to Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi that warned of Americans moving closer to oil independence. Because of new production in the United States, the Saudi kingdom no longer counts on raising production to grow the economy.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts production in the United States to reach 8 million barrels a day by October of 2014. That will be the highest output since 1988, at a time when Americans are seeking more-efficient cars and living in high-efficiency homes with Energy Star appliances. Given future new leadership in the White House and Congress, producers may have greater access to gas and oil beneath public lands.

The upward trajectory of domestic oil will probably continue. As Americans find innovative ways to reduce consumption, newly industrialized countries build roads, cars and demand more oil - a trend that may help Alwaleed get back to sleep. Among them is China, which dwarfs our country in population. We could become the future's major exporter, which would help fund efforts to harness sun, wind and other sustainable resources that won't embroil us in unhealthy dependence-based alliances.

Today, and for the foreseeable future, our economy cannot prosper without fossil fuels. A stagnant economy will have trouble funding innovation and production of sustainable alternatives.

Americans have grown up with a pie-in-the-sky goal of achieving energy independence. Suddenly, because of new and emerging production technologies - coupled with new efficiencies and alternative sources - we head fast in that direction.

If we liberate ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, we will be better positioned than ever to pursue a new goal - one in which homes, cars, commerce and industry run independently on energy from the sun and wind.

Saudi Arabia is worried. Their best hope resides in newly developed and developing countries.

That, and anti-fracking activists who wish to stop our steady march toward energy independence.

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