The Energy Source In Our Backyard

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Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

Turmoil in the oil-rich Middle East, combined with the nuclear crisis in Japan, has caused a lot of experts to recalculate the global energy algorithm for the future. But people need energy now, and with the ravenous economic growth of China, India and Brazil, demand has grown even more urgent. The problem is that the clean fuels of the future--solar and wind power--are not even close to scale: only about 1% of U.S. electricity needs is supplied by the combination of the two.

That leaves an unsexy 400 million-year-old source of energy as the new new thing. As Bryan Walsh's cover story on shale gas explains, the U.S. has enough natural gas underground to last a century. It's cleaner than coal and less risky than nuclear, but it's no silver bullet: it's hard to extract, and the environmental fallout can be harmful to individuals and communities. Bryan's piece shows that as this industry expands, it needs more monitoring and regulation to prevent harm to towns and families. But shale gas is available--and it could help cut our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Also make sure to read Mark Benjamin's powerful reporting on the tragic mix-ups and outright blunders at Arlington National Cemetery, our nation's most sacred burial ground. His report, which has prompted a hearing by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, makes clear that some military families may suffer twice: when they lose their son or daughter in combat and when they discover that Arlington may have lost the remains. These kinds of bureaucratic mistakes are simply inexcusable, and the Army needs to be as transparent as possible in explaining how it is going to fix the problem.

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR