Folks from Iowa’s agriculture, health care, insurance and home building industries have joined a group seeking passage of federal legislation that would expand natural gas drilling. The “Iowa Consumer Alliance for Energy Security” backs a bill that would open more of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling.
Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Lang has joined the group. “We can do it safely and we can do it in a way in which we can actually produce ourselves into allowing all of our energy to be cheaper,” Lang says. Current federal law forbids natural gas drilling within 250 miles of the U.S. coastline.
State Representative Jim Kurtenbach of Nevada, another member of the group, says if the line were drawn at 150 miles of the coastline — as the bill suggests — another five trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be “harvested.” “Throughout the last few years with the hurricane…there haven’t been significant oil spills,” Kurtenbach says. “Technology has changed dramatically over the last 20 years…We can do things safely now.”
Dave Coppess, vice president of the Heartland Co-op in West Des Moines, is also chair of the national Ag Retailers Association. He says the high cost of energy will raise the cost of food because high natural gas prices are impacting farmers. Natural gas is a basic ingredient for anhydrous ammonia and nitrogen fertilizer. According to Coppess, the cost for fertilizer alone has increased 40 dollars per acre, an 87 percent increase.
The Iowa Farm Bureau’s president hangs a dollar figure on it. He says because of the jump in natural gas prices, the average Iowa farmer will spend over six-thousand more dollars this year than they did five years ago to raise the same crop on a 350-acre farm. “Let me tell you what it means to me,” Lang says. “We have about 450 acres of corn on my farm. Therefore, I’m going to sacrifice about one year of my son’s college education paying for the nitrogen costs over what it was five years ago.”
Kurtenbach, the state legislator from Nevada, says natural gas prices are not only harming the bottom line for farmers. He cites the case of Iowa hospitals. He says Iowa Health Systems which represents nine of the state’s hospitals reports an overall 27 percent increase in energy costs this past year. Kurtenbach and other members of the new group are asking Iowans to pester potential presidential candidates like U.S. Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist to vote on the bill that would expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.