Veteran Congressman Helps Dedicate New Sustainable-Energy Lab PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Andy Duncan   
Monday, 29 October 2012 16:50

“The Earth is not made out of oil”

On a day that Hurricane Sandy canceled classes at Frostburg State University, and only eight days away from an election that might end his congressional career, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., braved wind, rain, and political storms today to help dedicate the university’s new Sustainable Energy Research Facility ( – and speak on one of his favorite subjects.

In one of the large laboratory rooms of the new off-the-grid building, Bartlett told a crowd of town-and-gown dignitaries that in his 20 years representing Maryland’s 6th District, he has spoken 52 times on the floor of the U.S. House about diminishing global oil production and the urgent need for options.

“Of course we will live in a post-oil world,” Bartlett said. “The moon is not made of green cheese, and the Earth is not made out of oil.” In the history of human civilization, Bartlett said, “The age of oil will be but a blip.”

The SERF project should be applauded by anyone concerned about global warming, national security, and sustainable energy, Bartlett said. “You are really, really in the forefront here.”

He dismissed as “irrational exuberance” claims that natural gas to be extracted from the Marcellus shale will make the United States energy-independent. Yes, he said, Marcellus reserves are the equivalent of about 3.4 billion barrels of oil, “and that sounds like a lot” – but the world uses that much every 40 days, he said.

Bartlett urged everyone to read the texts of two prescient mid-‘50s speeches: first, geologist M. King Hubbert’s March 1956 paper “Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels” (available at, in which Hubbert controversially but accurately predicted U.S. oil production peaking in 1970, global oil production peaking in 2000; and second, Adm. Hyman Rickover’s May 1957 speech “Energy Resources and Our Future” (available at Bartlett’s website,

Despite a series of authoritative studies calling “peak oil” an unprecedented global challenge, the federal government has responded to the problem mostly by ignoring it, Bartlett said. “For example, we are buying oil nowhere in the world but at public auction, but the Chinese are buying oil reserves all over the world.”

Bartlett said the United States must embrace conservation (“The cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use”), alternative energy, environmentalism (“China is building a coal-fired power plant every week and choking in the smoke”), and international cooperation.

Bartlett on his 2012 chances

In a brief interview after the SERF dedication ceremony, Bartlett called his 6th District “the most gerrymandered district in the country,” redesigned by the General Assembly after the 2010 Census to give registered Democrats a 50,000-vote edge over registered Republicans.

Nevertheless, the 86-year-old congressman said he was encouraged by the latest Baltimore Sun poll showing his race against his Democrat challenger, 49-year-old businessman John Delaney, as virtually tied despite Delaney outspending him 6-to-1 in recent weeks.

Asked about his support from the national Republican Party for an 11th term, Bartlett said it had provided $85,000 here, $40,000 there – “not what you’d call a lot.” Though Bartlett didn’t say so, observers agree that the 6th District race has not been a priority for the GOP this year.

One factor working to his advantage, Bartlett wryly noted, was rotating at that moment off the Delmarva Peninsula.

“The storm is good news for us politically,” he said. “It’s Democrats who vote in early voting, and the governor has canceled early voting, for today, anyway.” Moreover, he said, Republicans in western Maryland are more energized than Democrats farther east. “In places where Democrats always win, they just don’t have the intensity.”

Bartlett said he still enjoys handicapping elections, but when asked whether he was optimistic about the Nov. 6 outcome, he only smiled and shrugged. “I’ll be OK with it, whatever happens,” he said. He added that he most would miss helping constituents in their dealings with the federal government. “I have a really dedicated staff, and they do quite a good job.”

Other speakers at the dedication

Frostburg Mayor Robert Flanigan noted that SERF is the second sustainable-energy project in the city to come online in 2012. The other is Frostburg’s new hydroelectric plant, built with a grant from the Maryland Clean Energy Center, which feeds renewable power into the regional grid; the city’s electric bill is reduced accordingly. “We’re a community that has taken this very, very seriously.”

Flanigan also noted that 2012 is the bicentennial year of the city of Frostburg. “What brought everyone out west 200 years ago was energy, and now, 200 years later, we’re still talking about energy.”

Flanigan got laughs when he told visitors that as Hurricane Sandy advances, “it may be safer west than east, so you’re welcome to stay.”

Frostburg State engineering Professor Oguz Soysal -- who with his lecturer wife, Hilkat, are the “architects of this great idea,” in the words of Mohammed Eltayeb, chair of physics and engineering – also invoked the hurricane, saying Sandy’s threat to the Eastern power grid is a reminder of the challenges facing our energy future. As it will operate off the grid, and thus be impervious to blackouts, “This building will be a shining light in such a disaster situation,” Soysal said.

“This building has been a dream, especially Hilkat’s dream, for so many years,” Soysal said, adding that he and his wife first envisioned such a facility during the early 1970s oil shortage known at the time – however quaintly – as “the energy crisis.”

“We wanted to do something for Frostburg,” their home for the past 14 years, Hilkat Soysal said, and she pledged that the two of them would continue working on this project “as long as we live.”

University President Jonathan Gibralter told the Soysals, “Without you, this project would never have happened. … You have made Frostburg State University very proud.” He also lauded Bartlett’s “tireless” efforts in landing an “instrumental” $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“This building may be off the grid, but Frostburg State is now on the map” for energy research, Gibralter said. “It can happen here; it is possible now.”

“This building does exactly what this business park was designed to do” 15 years ago, said Matt Diaz, Allegany County’s director of economic development. He pledged to “continue to move our economy forward, as hopefully it does nationally,” using “wind, solar, and all the natural resources we have locally” – leaving coal and natural gas unnamed. (Bartlett was the event’s only speaker to mention coal.)

Also attending, but not speaking at the ceremony, were State Sen. George Edwards; Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine; Frostburg City Administrator John Kirby; contractor Carl Belt Jr. of Carl Belt Inc. in Cumberland; contractor Betsy Delozier of Big D Electric in Cumberland; and Lisa Lyons Wright, Bartlett’s press secretary.

Emcee for the event was Stephen Spahr, Frostburg State vice president for economic and community initiatives. Other university officials present, but not speaking at the ceremony, included Stephen Simpson, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Tom Bowling, vice president for student and educational services; Colleen Stump, interim vice president for university advancement; campus Police Chief Cynthia Smith; Joe Hoffman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Clarence Golden, dean of the College of Education.

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