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Scientific Research is Crucial to America's Energy Future

By U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis

Rep Cynthia Lummis

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis

Wyoming is a big state, rich with natural resources, but few people. The hearty folks who do call Wyoming home are honest, straight shooters. Just like my Cowboy State neighbors, I always prefer to lay my cards face up, so here goes. I support robust domestic energy production on both public and private land. I support the development of oil and gas, nuclear, coal, hydro-power and other renewable sources. The fact of the matter is that our country needs to tap all sources of energy to meet the ever growing demand for power in America and around the world, and Wyoming can lead the way in providing that power.

However, you may have noticed that Congress has some difficulty agreeing on much of anything these days, and so I will also say that my opinion on the need for robust energy development is not universally shared in the House. But as the Representative for the second leading energy producing state in the country, I am here to tell you that energy production and environmental conservation can go hand in hand. They do go hand in hand in my state. But accomplishing both goals successfully requires an intentional, concerted effort on the part of government, academia, and the private sector.

While energy development is a contentious issue, smartly investing in basic, early stage research to make renewable energy more efficient, and to help fossil energy minimize its impacts is something on which most members of Congress agree. It is basic research, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans who are willing to risk bringing new ideas to the market that has resulted in the breathtaking advancements in safe, environmentally sound energy production.

Early stage research supports fresh and excited minds that bring new, innovative, sometimes far-flung ideas to their fields. But that is exactly the kind of thinking that has brought about our latest energy revolution. The largest public land oil and gas field in America — the Jonah Field near Pinedale Wyoming — was only possible because of the combination of basic oil and gas research leading to technological advances, and people willing to risk everything to test it in the real world.

The Jonah Field discovery was not too long ago, but even in this short time, technology has continued to advance. Today, oil and gas operators drill multiple wells from one well-pad, recovering more oil and gas by utilizing an old idea — hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — with new, horizontal drilling techniques. Old oil fields once thought to be tapped out are springing back to life with the use of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), the process of injecting CO2 into oil fields to stimulate hard-to-get resources. While many are struggling with how to capture CO2 and sequester it, we in Wyoming are using every bit of CO2 we can get our hands on for EOR.

The research necessary to fuel these kinds of success stories is happening in universities all across the country and the West. Wyoming is on the forefront here, too, with both public and public-private research teams and organizations that focus on energy production, development, and reclamation.

The University of Wyoming (UW) recently unveiled its new Energy Innovation Center (EIC) that houses the university's School of Energy Resources. This new, state-of-the-art facility allows for researchers to delve into some of the most challenging questions facing energy development today. At UW, researchers from around the world can research and model subsurface water movements, fluid flow through porous rocks, EOR, coal to liquids technology and so much more.

It is notable that the university's EIC, which costs a total of $25.4 million dollars, was paid for by private donations and state matching funds, not the federal government. The energy industry themselves footed much of the bill to build this amazing research facility because they recognize that in order to stay globally competitive, innovation must never stop. We don't know today what will be the new energy revolution like those brought about by fracking more than three decades ago, or by horizontal drilling and EOR today. We do know that the private sector is clearly interested in pushing that innovation forward.

Washington's commitment to basic research is not so clear, particularly when it comes to fossil fuels. On the one hand, Administration officials talk about the importance of coal, oil and natural gas to the nation's energy portfolio, while on the other hand they actively work to curtail its development and minimize research dollars intended to make fossil energy cleaner, more efficient, and more effective. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are funneled toward late stage research in renewable energy better done by the private sector.

I am not opposed to investments in basic research to produce renewable energy sources in amounts needed to meet demand without ongoing tax credits and subsidies. However, no amount of wishful thinking can erase the truth of how deeply we rely on coal, oil and natural gas to meet our electricity needs, or how cheaply and efficiently we can produce energy from those sources. Some see that reliance as a source of national shame. I see sources of energy developed safely, cleanly, and affordably that have advanced our common purpose to a better life for all. We must continue to advance research in these proven areas so that we can realize the full potential of fossil energy sources.

As Chairman of the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Energy with jurisdiction over the National Laboratories, it is my responsibility to oversee our spending priorities on energy research activities at our national labs. To that end, nearly every lab with activities in the energy arena has made their case to me about the necessity of their programs and budget. The only energy lab that I have not heard from directly is the nation's sole fossil fuel lab, in part because the fossil energy lab is controlled by the government. The other energy labs are controlled by private contractors, and so are free to pursue projects and meet with Congressional members at will.

While the entire nation struggles under the weight of $16 trillion in debt, we must be vigilant about spending taxpayer dollars wisely. Basic energy research can help to advance our nation's quality of life in unimaginable ways, but it cannot take the place of private investment and the entrepreneurial spirit. In the coming weeks and months, I hope to get answers to some very important questions about the Department of Energy's priorities for research dollars. Our nation's continued leadership on energy development depends on getting this research right.  

Cynthia Lummis (pronounced "Luh-miss") was elected to represent the people of Wyoming in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008. She was raised on her family ranch in Laramie County and graduated from the University of Wyoming with bachelor degrees in animal science and biology. In 1979, Lummis became the youngest woman ever elected to the Wyoming Legislature. She returned to the University of Wyoming for a law degree, which she received in 1985.

Lummis then clerked at the Wyoming Supreme Court, practiced law in Cheyenne, and served a total of 14 years in the Wyoming House and Senate, concentrating on natural resource and taxation issues. She completed her legislative service in 1994 and then chaired Gov.-elect Jim Geringer's transition team. She continued to work in the Governor's office for two more years, primarily on natural resource issues. Lummis also served as the interim director of the Office of State Lands and Investments.

Lummis was elected Wyoming State Treasurer in 1998. In eight years (two terms) as Wyoming State Treasurer, she converted Wyoming's primarily fixed income investment portfolio of $3.5 billion to a fully diversified portfolio of equities, real estate and fixed income investments, public and private, domestic and international, totaling $8.5 billion. Her term of office as state treasurer ended in January 2007.

Lummis continues to be involved in the daily operations of her family's ranch. She and her husband, Al Wiederspahn, a former Wyoming legislator and Cheyenne attorney, have one daughter, Annaliese.

As the sole House Representative for the state of Wyoming, Lummis is a staunch advocate for fiscal responsibility, limiting the size and scope of the federal government and developing our nation's domestic energy capabilities. Lummis is a member of the House Natural Resources, Oversight and Government Reform, and Science, Space and Technology Committees.

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