Donald Fournier: Oil depletion and the US Army (transcript)

MediaDonald Fournier: Oil depletion and the US Army

David Room: Hello, Don. Could you please tell me about the report you co-authored, "Energy Trends and Implications for the U.S. Army Installations"?

Don Fournier: The intent of this report was just to gather and summarize the energy issues and options. The intended audience was the folks who run the military bases for the U.S. Army. We had done an earlier report which we called "Candidate Army Energy and Water Management Strategy," and the work that's in this Energy Trends report was really based on a White Paper that we had done previous to the "Candidate Strategy" report, and when we finished that we thought we ought to go ahead and publish the information in the White Paper in a more formal manner, with the idea being of helping inform the Army management structure about these issues, and to put on paper why we think it's so important to move on with a highly effective energy management program for the U.S. Army.

DR: Why do you think it is so important?

DF: Well, we think it's important because there are significant energy issues coming towards us: certainly peak oil in the next five to ten years would be one of those, the natural gas supply situation in the United States is I think a bit dicey and probably will be for some time, and climate change and how to work with your energy system to be more environmentally friendly and produce less climate change gasses is going to be an issue. We also see volatile energy prices, which are higher energy prices, and which has certainly come to pass in the last couple of years. Pretty much everything I feel we've looked at and projected and been saying for half a dozen years or more, ten years or so, has come to pass.

We've seen significant increases in the cost of natural gas, significant increases in the cost of petroleum, and all of these for very valid reasons, I think, which were predictable. And so, part of the reason for this report was to just to say, hey, things are changing out there and the Army needs to ensure it can be viable with operations of its military bases in the future. So we laid out what we see as the future of energy and the different sources and pipes, and where we see some of the issues, and then we make some recommendations, both on a national basis and then for the Army itself -- how they can deal with some of these issues. And of course the final thing is to implement a very strong and proactive energy management strategy that looks at the issue of how we use energy on military installations, and the types of energy and the types of buildings we build, and how all these types of things come to play in this type of outlook to the future.

DR: What has been the reaction to the report?

DF: We haven't got a great deal of reaction to it, per se. The Army was certainly involved in developing a new energy management plan for its facilities -- they're calling it the Energy Campaign Plan -- and this was an informative document to that. The idea is to raise up the urgency of these issues, and to help insure then that the Army is serious about implementing its energy plan.

DR: Are you able to explain the Army's mission and how it may change in a world with less energy?

DF: The geopolitical issues associated with energy I think are starting to show. So I certainly see a role, probably for the U.S. military, depending what our national approaches are to things, for greater opportunity -- to call it that -- for a lot of mischief in the world coming. The first President Bush used to talk about the New World Order and I think what's really forming up is the New World Disorder. And so, the U.S. Army I think is active in something like a hundred and thirty-five nations right now. Different types of missions. And I don't see an end to those kinds of things coming.

DR: What role does energy play in resolving conflicts?

DF: Well, any military, I think, goes to war based on it's --- you know, it has to have a supply of energy to function. That's an issue that the U.S. Army has certainly been looking at over the past ten years or so, looking at how much energy it takes to go to war and what's involved in it. Although the Army doesn't use a great deal of energy compared to the other services, say the Navy and the Air Force, it's certainly an important part of what they do if they have to deploy.

When you look at what we call the tooth-to-tail ratio -- the tooth being say a division -- a heavy division moves out, that's about ninety-thousand tons of hardware, the equipment, the combat vehicles, -- there's about thirty-five thousand tons. But behind that is what we call the tail, and that's another hundred-thousand tons and about forty percent of that is petroleum and oil lubricants -- maybe fifty-five percent of that tail. The forty percent is ammunitions; maybe fifty-five percent is the consumables. So it is certainly an issue when you talk about deploying your army in the field. And the Army has been looking at this for some time with some goals about becoming much lighter and more flexible and more mobile, and with a goal ultimately to reduce that energy tail by about seventy-five percent, as a way to become a more expeditionary, light, and flexible force.

DR: How much energy does the Army use?

DF: The Army right now uses about ninety trillion BTUs in its facilities. And the ratio between facilities and the mobility, which are the fuels for the tanks and the helicopters and these kinds of things, that's about another twenty percent -- so somewhere around a hundred or a hundred and ten trillion BTUs. It's gone down significantly since say, 1985; there have been a lot of changes. And the Army, like all other government entities has goals to reduce its energy consumption, especially in its facilities.

DR: Can you put that into perspective for our listeners?

DF: If you look at the U.S. as a whole, the Department of Defense I believe uses about one-and-a-half percent of the nation's energy. The nation uses a hundred quads, roughly, and the U.S. military uses about one-and-a-half quads of energy. The Army is the smallest user in the Department of Defense; the large users are, of course, the Air Force and the Navy because they have all those airplanes to fly and all those ships to put on the sea and they're much more energy-intensive than the Army's mission. Although the Army has the biggest facility piece; it has more installations and bases, so it uses more installation energy than the other services.

DR: And do you have an idea of what percentage of the Army's energy is provided by oil?

DF: Facility-wise, it's not a very large percent. Our national economy uses about forty percent of its energy in oil, whereas the Army for on-site facility consumption represents about ten percent of the Army's consumption. So it's not a big piece of the use, although it's a very important piece. And over the years we've tried very hard to reduce the amount of oil being used on facilities and to reserve that for the mobility-type mission. And so, if you look at the last ten or fifteen years, the oil consumption has certainly gone down greatly on Army facilities. It's mostly been switched to natural gas, and reductions in the number of facilities and then efficiency improvements.

DR: To what extent is the U.S. military command aware of Peak Oil theory, and are they convinced?

DF: There's our paper. The DOD is certainly looking at these issues at that level and there have been some other papers on this issue out of the War College area. So they're aware of these issues, I think. Our goal was to inform the people who run the facilities-end of things that these issues are going to be coming into play. I can't really address where they are and what they're trying to do about it; I think its part of their thinking about the future.

DR: And what makes you confident in the predictions from ASPO as opposed to those of the USGS or IEA?

DF: When we started this report we went out there and did a literature search and tried to see what people were saying. And you look and you read and you buy your books and you download things off the internet, and you try and see who sounds like their story makes the most sense. I looked at the writings of Colin Campbell, I listened to his interviews, I read Simmons, I read Deffeyes' book, and I looked at all these things and sort of made a judgment call. I read also Jean LaHerrere's review of the USGS report, and what struck me is the fact that if all this oil is out there, why aren't we finding it? You know, we're not finding that North Sea every year. I'm a shade on the pessimistic side, also at the same time I think being more pessimistic is actually--, if I can deal with the pessimistic side, if there's a greater supply out there then fine and dandy, as far as that goes. But if you look into alternatives and you're looking at the price of oil, certainly worldwide production is not keeping up with worldwide demand, therefore the price is going up -- and that's pretty telling to me.

We don't really have to reach peak to experience the economic dislocations that are coming from increasing energy costs. So my feeling is enlightened self-interest should be what comes to play here. And as a matter of fact, if people get very serious about energy efficiency and alternate energy sources and more efficient vehicles and all these kinds of things, we can maybe bring the demand back down below what the supply is and then see price reduction. So I feel it's sort of like a win-win scenario, if you will, or a win-win-win: if you reduce your costs, reduce your environmental impact, you'll increase your security by being more efficient. And so, you know I also believe in Murphy's Law. Forewarned is forearmed, if you will. So I looked at what was out there, read the 2000 report from the USGS and read the commentary on it and made the call that I lean more toward ASPO's camp.

DR: And you seem to be saying it's only prudent to take into consideration a near-term peak scenario.

DF: Certainly it's only prudent, and if you look at Hirsch's report, his report to Congress where he talks about how soon you have to start planning for a peak scenario in order to avoid major dislocations in your economy, we're already way behind the power curve.

DR: Tell me how your study is similar to and different from the Hirsch report.

DF: I think the Hirsch report did the same thing we did -- went out there and looked at all the literature, tried to balance it up and figure out who was closest to the probable scenario and go with that. We didn't look at some of the issues that they looked at -- how soon you would have to start doing something to make a major impact, because we were looking at a more bounded situation of what the impact would be to the military installations and how we could transition fairly quickly to a more resilient energy posture for the installations.

DR: Do you agree or disagree with most of Hirsch's assumptions?

DF: I agree with them. He didn't really say oil will peak on such and such a day, but he listed all the studies and they were all pretty much the studies that we looked at, the numbers that we had. The range looked reasonable in what he came up with; so I tend to agree with the results of their report.

DR: One of the most interesting parts of the report that I found was that the social cost of beginning early is much, much smaller than the cost of starting too late with mitigation.

DF: I would agree with that one hundred and fifty percent. That harks back to enlightened self-interest and that's why I think it's imperative that we start to prepare for this and we look to the future of that and we have to become significantly more efficient.

DR: And when you say "we" -?

DF: That "we" was us, the United States as a nation. And then sometimes when I say "we", I say we, the U.S. Army. I worked for the U.S. Army for twenty-six years; I retired from the Corps of Engineers, so I tend to think, there's still sort of a "we" in my blood, if you will.

DR: But you were talking about "we" the nation?

DF: We, the nation.

DR: Need to ---

DF: We the nation need to get very, very serious very, very fast.

DR: Several of the mitigation options in the Hirsch report entail massive emissions of carbon dioxide, like coal to liquids for example. How do you think about mitigation strategies that will potentially exacerbate global warming?

DF: Well I don't think they're very good for the future. Global warming is certainly, I think, a major issue that's coming, and I think a fairly intractable issue, given the global nature of it, and the development of China and India and Asia in general. I think it's quite intractable; I think it's very important that the United States become a leader in this, not a lagger in this. So solutions that lead you to coal without some sort of carbon sequestration as part of that solution, I see them as not very good solutions. I think we really need to be looking at the full impact of our energy consumption, which is not only the emissions of nox and sox and the other pollutants but also the CO2. There are technologies out there that we're looking at, for example polygeneration techniques where you can hopefully build a plant that you get a fairly concentrated stream of CO2 and then you can sequester that CO2. I think that needs to be certainly part of the scenario in the midterm, by 2015 or maybe sooner.

DR: So when you say future gen for coal or polygeneration, you're speaking of carbon sequestration or some other technology?

DF: Yes, where you gasify or liquefy the coal, burn it in maybe combustion turbines and then make electricity, make distributed heat and maybe make a liquid fuel product or hydrogen as byproduct and then sequester the carbon from that process, all in one package.

DR: Are there any successful examples of carbon sequestration that you know of?

DF: No, I know in England they are looking at pumping CO2, I believe, back into some of the depleted gas fields in the North Sea. Some of it is the carbon-credit world, if you will -- looking at forest management and agriculture management where you sequester soil carbon in the soil and those types of things. But I think the generation of carbon dioxide from energy conversion is so great that we probably need to be looking at direct sequestration technologies. And the science, of course, is just really getting started in that.

DR: Now tell me this, are other branches of the military -- you mention the Navy and the Air Force as being large consumers of energy -- are these other branches conducting similar studies.

DF: I don't know if they've done a study parallel to ours, but they're certainly looking at these issues and they're certainly interested in energy efficiency, both in their fixed facilities and in their mobility requirements. They've had energy programs for the last twenty-five years and they will continue, just like the Army is looking toward both energy efficiency in its installations and energy efficiency in its mobility operations.

DR: And do you have a sense of whether the militaries of other countries are going through similar evaluation processes?

DF: I can't imagine them not. Of course, some of the drivers for these things have been environmental issues, too, from emissions and things, so the U.S. Army's had those drivers. I was over in Europe for nine years with the U.S. Army and we had a great significant effort to clean up our heating plant and become more environmentally-friendly and at the same time significantly more energy- efficient. So those work hand-in-hand, and they're very large drivers for the military to be more environmentally aware. The Army has had major program for a long time in that area; they're looking toward sustainability as a long-term goal.

DR: And does the Army have its own strategic reserve of transportation fuels?

DF: Not that I'm aware of. The Army gets its fuels from the Defense Fuels Supply Center, which gets the fuels for the entire Department of Defense. And they have what repository would be with them, and they do have an amount of storage at various installations around the world, but we sort of look to the general outside economy for the fuel sources. They're bought on the market.

DR: Interesting.

DF: Now they do have some; on installations we did require if you're burning oil that you have a thirty-day supply for your heating plan and we started looking at propane -- our storage on military installations -- in case we have natural gas curtailments, to use propane air in the natural gas system. And some installations have those systems already. Part of that was a strategy to reduce costs by being able to get an interruptible rate.

DR: And if nothing was done how might future fuel supply-crunch affect the size and effectiveness of motorized and mechanized divisions of the Army?

DF: The Army has an initiative and they're looking at ways to reduce that tail, that amount of energy it takes to mobilize the army and put it in the field and carry out its mission. And the goal is somewhere in the seventy-five percent range in reducing that. Also they're using renewable energy in the field; they have portable solar arrays that you can set up and charge batteries and things. The Army is very much in transition now, as the whole Department of Defense is, looking to be a lighter, more mobile expeditionary force, working in conjunction more with the Army and the Navy. We're talking about probably combined installations in the future, rather than this is an Army base and this is an Air Force base, combining them up a little more, and being more flexible that way. They're looking at military facilities; they want them to be what they call home stations to the force, where you would prepare people and train people and house the units and their families, and then you'd project from there -- what we call power-projection -- to anywhere in the world to carry out whatever mission the military was handed. And so, we're calling it home stations; that is part of the transformation. Also the other transformation is, as I mentioned, lighter forces; and that's why you're seeing these Striker wheeled vehicles, combat vehicles, instead of the big tanks, types of things that are very heavy in the armor, to go into lighter force.

DR: So would it be fair to say that the military is putting a strong emphasis on researching and purchasing renewable energy generating devices and power devices?

DF: They're certainly tracking that technology; they're demonstrating that technology -- the Army has been testing fuel cells, both larger-sized ones in the 250-kilowatt range and the 5kw-type fuel cells on installations and applications. They're also looking at fuel cell powered vehicles. They're looking at more efficient vehicles. There are different laboratories within the Army looking at different types of technologies, but certainly the Army is looking at all of these technologies and looking at how to incorporate them into their installations and into their mobility operation.

DR: And how do you expect the investments in R&D made by the military in energy efficiency and renewable energy devices might affect the development of civilian energy technologies?

DF: Well, the hope would be that the Army and maybe the Department of Defense and maybe the entire government would create somewhat of a demand pull on the technologies; that if they start to implement them on larger scales, then the production would go up and costs would come down. It's a way to bootstrap the whole nation into these technologies; by having the requirements for these technologies and trying them out and demonstrating them, it's a way to make these alternative technologies be more viable.

DR: Earlier you spoke about the U.S. natural gas situation, and I'd like to get your perspective on that, and also understand how a limited supply of natural gas may affect the Army.

DF: Of course, the natural gas system in the United States -- it takes about three times as many wells now to get the same production as we used to get ten or fifteen years ago. The decline rate is fairly high on wells that are in production, and just to keep production level is a major endeavor for the natural gas industry in the nation. And of course that's not going to go on forever -- much of the natural gas available in the U.S. is stranded. We have a quantity up in Alaska and we've been reinjecting natural gas into the oil wells of Prudhoe Bay and those places, so we need to eventually think about getting that gas to market. That's what I would call a mid-term solution at this point in time. It's the same thing with importation of LNG -- certainly it's a definite piece of America's future to import natural gas, but you've got to get the infrastructure in place on both ends, both the supplier and the user and then the infrastructure of a number of tankers to flow between them. And that process is taking some time. It's been somewhat troublesome to get these LNG terminals approved and constructed, so the ramping up of them has not been very fast. All of those look to a constrained natural gas availability in the United States for maybe five, seven, ten years of the system being run very tight, and any disruption or any problems causing spikes in prices. Events like Katrina and Rita really can put a big dent in our supply system in the United States, and we sort of lucked out this winter with the warmer weather that we did get in January that reduced the costs, but we've seen very large increases in the price of natural gas. Today we're rationing by price; what you're seeing is demand destruction here and there to keep demand below the supply level and at a price that's do-able.

For the military that means higher costs to operate their facilities, and when you're spending money buying natural gas, that means there's less money to train or to update facilities or to buy new weapons. The budget is somewhat fixed. Energy costs have not historically been a major piece of the military budget, especially the Army's budget, but if prices double and triple, then it starts to hurt and it starts to take away your ability to do other things. So that's the play I see. For natural gas, I see high prices for the foreseeable future. Even the imported LNG, when it comes, is not going to be that cheap. I think we've moved away from a two dollar per mean BTU natural gas scenario to one that's more six, eight, ten, twelve, even up to fifteen dollars. And as a nation, you know that's eventually going to ripple through the economy and cause some problems. I think there's going to be some inflationary pressures there. And I don't see the solution to that coming very quickly.

DR: You mentioned that we had a mild winter and that kept the prices within certain bounds, and I'm wondering if you have a sense what future non-mild winters might do to the prices of natural gas.

DF: I think a future non-mild winter would bring the projections home that they made for this year -- people would pay maybe thirty-five or forty percent or maybe even double for their heating. A regular winter would certainly hurt us as a nation. The other shoe that's dropping is the tremendous amount of natural-gas electrical generation that's been put in place: twenty-four hundred gigawatts, or something in that range. The demand from that electrical system can play havoc with the storage of natural gas for the winter. The two play off one another; so if you've got a very hot August and you have to put a lot of peaking generation on line, that's going to put a pinch on price and also inhibit storage for the next season, so I see it as a volatile time.

DR: And those twenty-four hundred natural gas units, these are units that came on line in the last six or seven years?

DF: Yes, that's right, twenty-four hundred gigawatts of capacity was built in the last six or seven years and the inertia of new building is still pretty much gas, although you're starting to see a slight switchover to coal in some of the newer projects, and eventually I think a switchover to more nuclear units for the electrical supply. I think many of those merchant-type plants and gas assets sit fairly idle, depending on where you are in the nation, what your generation mix is. Certainly people who are getting their electricity from natural gas-fired generation are seeing significant price increases.

DR: Based on what you've told us about the natural gas supply in the United States, it seems awfully strange that we've brought on twenty-four hundred new units within the last six or seven years.

DF: Yes, but of course they're not all operating -- many of them are peaking units, they don't operate very much of the year, but they're on to meet the peaks. So base-load generation is still pretty much coal-fired and nuclear in most of the nation. And so seventy percent of our electricity is nuclear and coal still, and very little oil is going into the grid, and maybe eight percent hydro, and the rest is natural gas. They dispatch generation; they try and put the most cost-effective generation on-line, so the gas generation is used the least as possible right now.

DR: Do you see the role of the Army changing to assist in the protection of overseas energy installations?

DF: I don't know; I couldn't answer that. Possibly, hard to say; but certainly the worldwide energy infrastructure -- and when we say that we're talking oil pretty much -- you know it's a fungible commodity, it's a worldwide market, and any part of that market that goes away affects the whole world. It really doesn't matter where you get your oil from once you're in that world market. It's a possibility.

DR: By the year 2020 the country Sweden plans to wean itself off of oil; assuming that their military is not exempt from this requirement, how would you imagine a military functioning without oil within the next decade and a half?

DF: I can't see a military functioning without oil because you have your aircraft and your helicopters and your ships. You could do some substitution; maybe have some nuclear-powered ships. You know they're looking at different types of fuels but there's a sort of a base-line, if you will, of mobility mission that will require jet fuels. Back in the 50s they looked at a nuclear-powered bomber and stuff like this; it's not practical to do those kinds of things. Maybe technology has made some leap ahead that I'm not aware of, but the militaries certainly need oil for mobility operations. They don't need it necessarily for facility operations, and there we're trying very industriously to get the facilities off of oil.

DR: In your report you suggested a number of mitigations and I'm wondering what level of reduction in oil consumption you were targeting, and if you could tell us some of the mitigations that you see as most promising.

DF: I don't think we have a specific level, but the idea is that you have to look at the energy situation in the United States as a whole, and many of those mitigations we talked about really need to be done on a national level. The military can do what it can to make their facilities modern and efficient and to utilize renewable resources and become highly efficient; that's a piece that they can do, but bear in mind that the entire Department of Defense is one-and-a-half percent of demand in the U.S. for energy. It has to be a bigger picture for the nation to look at these things. Certainly we talked about this, and a lot of these recommendations came out of that national committee that looked at energy issues: increase national supplies and release capacity -- we feel that energy efficiency releases capacity of systems, so you can use it elsewhere. There are oil and natural gas on federal lands that, if we can do it in an environmentally-friendly manner, need to be opened for exploration. We need to encourage the LNG terminals. I think looking at a natural gas pipeline down from Alaska certainly is a priority. As well as modernizing systems, national infrastructure, more pipelines, more power lines, more efficient systems. And then I think looking at options domestically for nuclear power, looking at renewable technologies. You hear the words Marshall Plan or Manhattan Project - we need to really start looking at energy and getting much, much more efficient and looking at the alternative energy sources. I see the nation as a whole having to embrace those things, very much more than they have, on a quicker time-scale, with more R&D money and more demonstration money. I think that has to come from a national will that comes from Congress. We haven't seen a lot of that yet. We need much higher CAFE standards for the automobile fleet. You know, the people who are running around in Hummers and things like that, you just have to scratch your head. And then they're doing these things because the signals are wrong; energy is probably still too cheap. But as the demand continues to go up and the supply becomes problematic, you know energy's going to get more expensive, so maybe you'll see people on their own starting to think about the types of vehicles they'll drive, how they use energy in their homes, and how they use energy in the workplace. I think it all has to come. My feeling is that there has to be some national leadership on this, effective follow-through leadership that gets the nation moving in these directions.

DR: Did you look at any conservation-oriented scenarios?

DF: Well that's certainly a piece of any plan, and I would say we have a tremendous opportunity within the nation and within the Army to be more efficient with what we do with energy. Look at the energy grid in this nation; we waste seventy percent of the energy that goes into it. We don't do co-generation; we have isolated power plants that make electricity and then we use fossil fuels to make thermal energy. We need to transition to significant amounts of co-generation within our cities and within our military installations, or for that matter, any kind of college campus or industrial campus. We need to become significantly more efficient; part of that is co-generation, another part of that is much better buildings that use much less energy. The technology is getting better all the time in these things and we need to implement these new technologies. The new Energy Policy Act has given some incentives to implement more efficient technologies, but I think the hurdles are a little high and the carrots a little weak. We could probably save thirty to forty to fifty percent of our energy as a nation just by getting much, much more serious about how we use it, how we generate it, and how we apply it in our economy.

DR: And do you see any need to significantly change our transportation system?

DF: Very definitely. Oil is not sustainable; how can you describe it any more than that? We have this concept that everybody gets into their vehicle and drives it around by themselves anywhere they want to go. Oil is forty percent of our energy and ninety percent of our transportation system is oil-based. We need to make some changes there. But here again, even two dollars and sixty cents a gallon is not enough to make anybody change what they're doing. People who are low-income may feel that, but people who are mid-to higher-income -- they're not going to change much what they do by the low energy prices. In real terms it's still not very high. The technology is there; you can get readily get cars that get forty, fifty miles per gallon rather than ones that get fifteen or ten or whatever miles per gallon. It's just a matter of the will to do that. There are things that we can do on a larger scale within our cities, within our urban planning, and within our infrastructure that we use in our cities. And then the other thing is what the individual decisions of the people make; we need to incentivize people to make better decisions.

DR: You've talked about incentivizing people and you've mentioned that the price of energy is probably too low -- do you see any interesting policy options that could pass along the true costs of energy or in some way increase the price of energy?

DF: Personally I would love to see some taxes that internalize the externalities, like a carbon tax or a SO2 tax or a nox tax, some sort of a depletion tax on non-renewable resources, to internalize those externalities and switch them from where they are in the budget now to where they need to be. Like the Department of Defense and how much are we spending to keep the world energy infrastructure rolling. And I've seen some numbers on that: the CATO Institute, I think they say 50 billion a year -- it depends where you want to put the cost of the Iraq war, as an oil war or not. I don't want to venture into that territory, but those are significant amounts of money that could be considered to be energy costs because of our reliance on imported oil. If you put those costs where they belong in the budget, maybe it would help incentivize people to make more informed decisions. Now here again, you look at Europe, you know they have very high energy prices compared to the United States, especially for gasoline, and it has some impact on the economy, but I don't know if it has the great impact we would like to see it have, as people in Europe still buy big Mercedes and SUVs and mini-vans and they're making those same decisions at energy costs that are twice what they are here. Part of it I think is cost and the realistic cost of things; the other part is maybe some sort of value system that's a little out of whack right now.

DR: You're familiar with M. King Hubbert?

DF: Yes. I've actually been to a talk from him.

DR: Oh really! Where was that?

DF: It was at Oakridge National Labs, back in 1982 or so. I took a course on science, technology and public policy, and he came and gave a talk.

DR: How did you find it?

DF: I found it fascinating. That's probably where I first developed an interest in peak-oil issues. You know, I'd always been interested in energy issues.

DR: Well one of the things that intrigued me is that Hubbert said we don't have a resources problem. He says that resources will fade out gradually; our problem is cultural. And it seems like that's in alignment with what we've been talking about here.

DF: I would say so. We've somehow incentivized people to be very energy-wasteful, very profligate. Even at today's prices. If you could just reduce demand five percent or so, you'd see a great reduction in prices and a great ease of the situation.

DR: What are the consequences for the nation and as well for the Army of doing nothing?

DF: For the Army I don't think it will matter much. It'll be higher costs to operate the Army. The military would probably get priority for what energy is out there, so it really wouldn't hurt the Army in that great a sense. But as a nation as a whole, I think doing nothing is a pretty short-sighted path to follow. I've read some of these other books; I've read Kunstler's The Long Emergency, and I've read Roberts' The End of Oil, I've looked at some of those things, and I think some of those scenarios are a little over the top. I don't think we're going to be killing each other over a tank of gasoline or anything; but certainly doing nothing, looking at the world energy situation and demands for energy worldwide, I see prices getting higher and higher and I see that eventually the peak oil causing pretty marked dislocations of economies. People say that energy is a small, small piece of our economy so we're not as sensitive to those things as we were back in the 70s and those times, but that's simply because we've moved our industry offshore. We're less energy-intensive that way, but we certainly need energy to operate this nation. So I can see some pretty high inflationary pressures, higher unemployment, possibly a depression, developing out of a course that says, don't worry be happy. It's a course that the nation needs to really seriously look at, and get more robust energy-wise, and make use of these things that are available to us, significantly renewables, maybe develop a lot of low-head hydro, certainly solar, wind technologies, maybe even tidal technologies, and become much, much more efficient, both in the built environment, the buildings and systems that we build, and also how we develop our cities and our suburbs. We need to change those paradigms. The will to do all that has to come, I think, from the nation as a whole. What we see today is certain states are starting to take these on themselves, certain types of organizations are taking these on, whether its corporations or religious institutions or whatever, people looking out there, making there own judgment call on where this is all going and trying to take action. And so I think the consequence of doing nothing is real problematical. And it worries me that, what's our most readily source of energy available in the United States? Well that's coal. So are we going to go back to everybody having a coal bin in their basement and burning that? Then you're really starting to produce more carbon dioxide, more emissions that are hazardous to the environment, so I see a very problematical future coming from not doing anything.

DR: I just wanted to follow up and just say how ironic it is we're talking about the military whose charge is security, in a sense, and it seems as though one of our most pressing security issues is the energy issue that we're facing.

DF: I would say so, yes. I think it's a very high-level security issue and that's why we made our recommendations to the Army - the Army really needs to dig into these issues, look at its installations, look at the way they're constructed, look at the new buildings going up, become significantly more efficient, work in co-generation, work in renewables. And it's a kind of a win-win-win scenario, if you will. And there's nothing wrong with a triple bottom line.

DR: Wow. Well that's a great way to end. This has been David Room interviewing Don Fournier on April 4, 2006.

MediaDonald Fournier: Oil depletion and the US Army