In a sense, while the dreams of the boosters of these new forms of energy may thrill journalists and pundits, their reality could be expressed this way: extreme energy = extreme methods = extreme disasters = extreme opposition.
There are already many indications that the new "golden age" of North American oil is unlikely to materialize as publicized, including an unusually rapid decline in oil output at existing shale oil drilling operations in Montana. (Although Montana is not a major producer, the decline there is significant because it is occurring in part of the Bakken field, widely considered a major source of new oil.) As for the rest of the Western Hemisphere, there is little room for optimism there either when it comes to the "promise" of extreme energy. Typically, for instance, a Brazilian court has ordered Chevron to cease production at its multibillion-dollar Frade field in the Campos basin of Brazil's deep and dangerous Atlantic waters because of repeated oil leaks. Doubts have meanwhile arisen over the ability of Petrobras, Brazil's state-controlled oil company, to develop the immensely challenging Atlantic "pre-salt" fields on its own.
While output from unconventional oil operations in the U.S. and Canada is likely to show some growth in the years ahead, there is no "golden age" on the horizon, only various kinds of potentially disastrous scenarios. Those like Mitt Romney who claim that the United States can achieve energy "independence" by 2020 or any other near-term date are only fooling themselves, and perhaps some elements of the American public. They may indeed employ such claims to gain support for the rollback of what environmental protections exist against the exploitation of extreme energy, but the United States will remain dependent on Middle Eastern and African oil for the foreseeable future.
Of course, were such a publicized golden age to come about, we would be burning vast quantities of the dirtiest energy on the planet with truly disastrous consequences. The truth is this: there is just one possible golden age for U.S. (or any other kind of) energy and it would be based on a major push to produce breakthroughs in climate-friendly renewables, especially wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and tidal power.
Otherwise the only "golden" sight around is likely to be the sun on an ever hotter, ever dirtier, ever more extreme planet.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of The Race for What's Left. A movie based on one of his earlier books, Blood and Oil , can be ordered at http://www.bloodandoilmovie.com. Klare's other books and articles are described at his website. You can follow Klare's work on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Michael T. Klare