Opinion: Fossil Fuels Aren’t Dead, and North Dakota Is Proof

Investing in coal and natural gas still pays dividends for our communities

Investing in fossil fuel research doesn’t mean throwing good money after bad; it means prosperity for our communities, Hoeven writes. Above, workers watch a gas flare at an oil well site in Williston, North Dakota, in 2013. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images file photo)

One of the most important challenges we face as a nation is reducing our deficit and debt. As a proud fiscal conservative, I understand we must make tough financial decisions; that is why I have worked diligently on measures that will put our nation on a path to a balanced budget.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which formulates the federal government’s spending plans, I know there is a distinct difference between making wise investments and frivolous spending. I believe it is important that we steer our scarce federal dollars toward effective investments like energy research and innovation.

Want a prime example of how energy innovation can revitalize communities? Come to North Dakota.

The breakthroughs in shale development have translated to great-paying jobs in our state. This shale oil and gas energy revolution has generated so much revenue for the North Dakota Legacy Fund, essentially a savings account for the state, that it has topped $4 billion in less than six years.

This economic phenomenon didn’t happen overnight. It took decades and sustained federal investments in research and development to assist with creating new drill bits, innovative drilling techniques and 3-D imaging. These are the commercialized technologies that are being used today to fuel our energy renaissance. The combination of public-private research partnerships that led to those technologies is common for groundbreaking innovations in the energy, health care and aviation sectors, among others.

Here’s a couple of undeniable truths. Our nation needs coal. We need natural gas. Together, they power two-thirds of America’s grid and drive many manufacturing processes. In North Dakota, we’ve got a lot of both and will continue to produce them for decades.

We should also invest in technologies that reduce the environmental footprint of coal and natural gas while creating new economic development opportunities. One class of technologies, called carbon capture, can recycle carbon emissions generated from power plants and industrial facilities and repurpose them for domestic oil production. Scientists are even exploring how to use carbon emissions in the manufacturing of products, from shoes to building materials.

You can’t find a better example of how public-private partnerships can spur innovation than Project Tundra, an effort involving Minnkota Power Cooperative, Allete, BNI Energy and the Energy and Environmental Research Center, or the EERC, at the University of North Dakota. Project Tundra, which was recently awarded $6 million from the Department of Energy, will retrofit a lignite coal power plant near Center, North Dakota, with carbon capture technology and send the captured emissions via pipeline for enhanced oil recovery. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, enhanced oil recovery alone could be worth more than $1 trillion for the country.

The EERC is a leader in carbon capture and clean fossil energy technology research, not to mention work on the next generation of fuels.

Our state’s EERC also leads the Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership, a flagship under the U.S. Department of Energy Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships Program that is designed to increase local industry and academic knowledge and understanding around regional carbon storage opportunities.

This is all being done in North Dakota and is just the start of the potential nationwide. As demonstrated here, states also need a reliable partner in the federal government. The U.S. can lead the world in technologies that are cleaner to use and grow our economy. We can’t afford to turn our backs on energy innovation.

John Hoeven is serving his second term as U.S. senator for North Dakota. He was previously the state’s governor.

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