The push by Big Gas & Oil to speed up the size and scope of drilling for natural gas is often supported by the claim that NG will be; a) a transitional or bridge fuel to tide us over until we develop the clean, safe, sustainable energy everyone agrees we need, and b) we have about 100 years worth of NG locked in shale deposits in the U.S.
The contradiction in these two claims is obvious and troubling. If NG is only supposed to be a transitional fuel; why does it matter that the U.S. has 100 years worth? The vast majority of climate scientists worldwide agree that continuing to use fossil fuels, coal, oil, and an added significant increase in NG; will exacerbate the earth’s warming trend to the point of massive environmental disaster. There is speculation that continued fossil fuel use will cause environmental damage which threatens the ability of the planet to sustain life as we know it.
Add to the increase in environmental pressure the expansion of fossil fuel use creates, the environmentally dangerous method needed to extract the NG from the shale formations that trap it; Fracking. Fracking involves the injection of huge amounts of fresh water, mixed with a witches brew of toxic chemicals, (about 3-5 million gallons per well), into shafts drilled first vertically, and then horizontally, up to a mile in all directions. This Fracking fluid, which is under extremely high pressure, is used to crack open the shale and release the micro bubbles of NG. Some of the Fracking fluid is extracted along with the NG. The rest remains in the ground after having forced it way through the cracked shale. Many environmental scientists and organizations are concerned with the potential migration of both the Fracking fluid and the methane (NG) into the water tables above them. They are also very worried about the disposal of the billions of gallons of toxic waste Fracking fluid brought up to the surface; because there is no current ability for water treatment plans to remove some of the toxic chemicals and any of the radioactive material that comes to the surface in this waste water. The only current method of disposal is injection into older abandoned gas mines. But recent findings in Arkansas and Ohio have shown that the injection of waste fluid in these wells has likely caused earthquakes and have been suspended in some places. When the abandoned well disposal is banned entirely, as is probable, there will be no way to dispose of the billions of gallons of toxic waste.
So why are we even thinking, yet alone planning, a major commitment to the increased use of NG, as recently mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union address? Taking into account all the known and potential problems associated with fossil fuels; wouldn’t it be far safer and wiser to focus our collective energy and science towards the rapid development of cleaner, safe, long term sustainable forms of energy? Common sense and a positive commitment to the future well being of the American people and way of life, would dictate yes! The full throttle pursuit of energy independence, affordability and safety should have this country putting the vast majority of its considerable economic and human resources into the large scale production of energy based on solar, wind, geothermal and ocean-hydroelectric energy, coupled with hydrogen fuel cell technology as a compliment to increased battery technology, as a distribution source.
But as straight forward and practical as the sustainable approach to energy may seem there are substantial obstacles in the way; the giant multinational petrochemical conglomerates and their bought and paid for politicians in Washington and elsewhere. The reasons for these entities acting in opposition to alternative energy production is as obvious as the benefits of the sustainable alternatives. The petrochemical industry, along with the Coal Barons has virtually complete American and worldwide domination as the purveyors of energy sources. They have a huge vertically integrated system from well to refinery all the way up to distribution at the gas pump and home heat delivery truck. They even supply the producers of the vast majority of electricity in this country and worldwide.
A switch to other sources to create electricity, heating our homes or powering our cars and trucks would diminish the income and profitability of the fossil fuel mining and drilling industries. So despite that fact that a rapid transition to sustainable clean energy would clean our air and water and would save us from potential environmental disasters; the fossil fuel industries will pull out all the stops to slow and prevent the sane and reasonable advances of science in the cause of bettering the human condition on the entire planet.
And because of their currently dominion over the earth’s energy production; they have virtually unlimited resources with which to defend their planet-wide domain. They are currently using it to fund a nationwide advertising campaign to convince the people of this country, most of whom don’t know the details or facts about such high risk energy exploration such as Fracking; that it is both safe and necessary. They will soon be doing the same type of media blitz to promote deep water drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and other coastal waters. They will try to convince us that they have learned something since the BP Gulf disaster. But even the greatest effort to attempt to make extremely risky types of energy production safer, very often cannot overcome the significant dangers in attempting things that are beyond our complete understanding and thus our ability to predict or control. They will try and tell us there operations are safe, but they always have to include the opening disclaimer line that admits there are risks involved; even as they try to sell us on allowing them to take these unspecified risks to our safety.
However the best interests of the people of this country would be far better served if we; rejected the advertising pitch from all the fossil fuel corporate entities; cut off all their subsidies and tax breaks; only supervised (in the interest of our safety) rather than fund their research and development; and make them fulfill each and every safety and environmental requirement and regulation we put on the books to protect ourselves. Instead we should incentivize, reward and partner with all the many scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs who are eager to use their talents in the cause of expanding existing technologies and developing new ones in the areas of safe, sustainable alternative energy production. Opportunity supports genius, innovation and hard work. We need to create such opportunities in as many ways and places as possible.
Opportunity creation is possible in many areas of endeavor and we have the experience of having done it, successfully, many times before. American scientists and entrepreneurs went from the vacuum tube, to the transistor to the computer chip in just over a generation. We built the great damns of the TVA in even less time. New battery and fuel cell technology can be accomplished in a matter of years, not decades. This would eliminate any need for increased transitional fossil fuel development. We already have enough worldwide proven reserves of hydrocarbon burning fuel to get us to a cleaner safer future without having to risk massive environmental disaster at all. Even major geothermal and ocean-hydroelectric systems can be built within a few years window for construction. State of the art electricity generation is technology we already have; it safe clean and efficient. Everyone knows that the future, in order to be sustainable, will be based on electricity for running just about everything. The clean quite whir of generators will replace the noise and filth of the puffing of smokestacks. Electricity generation is efficiently scalable and versatile. A small hydrogen fuel cell, or solar array can provide power in the most remote of settings here on earth; as it does in outer space. Large wind, solar, hydro and geothermal can provide power for the largest cities and manufacturing facilities. Electric furnaces can replace NG, oil or coal fired ones. Electric vehicles can replace gas and diesel guzzlers making a cleaner environment now and in the future.
The fossil fuel giants won’t be put entirely out of business. There will still be a need for some coal (as coke) in the making of iron into steel, even in electric blast furnaces. Petroleum based fuels may still be required for airplanes and trans-ocean ships. But the decrease in many of the main areas of use plus the increase in domestic rapid electric powered rail will both lessen the need for fossil based fuels and reduce the cost of transportation substantially. Unlike the makers of buggy whips when the automobile was invented; the producers of fossil fuels will not be put out of business. They will however have to modify and modernize their production methods and techniques to make them more compatible with the cleaner safer world alternative energy will create. They can also use their enormous economic strength productively and for the betterment of the planet, if they so chose. They have the brains and money to help develop and be involved in the future of energy use, instead of fighting against it. They are the economic entities which must make the transition to the 21st century, instead of trying to tie us into a deeper commitment to their current products and distribution networks. Big Oil & Gas had the 20th century as the opportunity of a lifetime to get strong and rich. Now they must join the rest of the planet in the 21st century and accept the need to transition to a cleaner, safer, life sustaining environment; or become merely an obstacle to true progress if they continue to chose to fight a wasteful and futile rearguard action against the future.