WV Energy Policy? Pipelines! Export our Resources a.s.a.p.

by S. Tom Bond on June 12, 2015

Hundreds of Miles of Land are Being Disturbed

We should not forfeit the future for the sake of energy today

Letter from S. Tom Bond, Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, June 7, 2015

The fossil fuel industry is finding more and more opposition as time goes by. The reasons are many. The list of new pipelines is amazing — for example, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Momentum Pipeline, the Rover Pipeline — on and on it goes.

These are no babies; some of them are as large as 42 inches, and they operate at up to 100 times the pressure of the atmosphere — at 1440 pounds per square inch. They will be among the largest ever built in the United States.

Literally thousands of miles of pipelines are being built to transport gas at a time when fossil fuels face a political and technological storm of a variety of problems hardly meeting public attention a decade ago.

Recently the International Monetary Fund published in a white paper that fossil fuels get a worldwide subsidy of $5.7 trillion, which amounts to 6.5 percent of the world gross domestic production, mostly due to environmental costs and damage to health — with coal the primary culprit.

The worldwide annual subsidy to renewables, which the fossil fuel industry likes to complain about, is only $77 billion, meaning fossil fuels get 66 times as much! The fossil fuel companies simply take the money while putting costs off on the public, the World Bank says.

This will encourage world leaders to impose a “carbon tax,” bringing cost of energy so provided more in line with its true economic worth. Things are so serious in China that the Communist Party is afraid it will lose its grasp if it does not do something about its smog. The chief U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, claims nations representing 60 percent of the carbon dioxide emission are already on board for a deal which will limit CO2 to 450 parts per million.

The Bank of England has launched an inquiry to determine how much of the $5.5 trillion invested in fossil fuel exploration and development over the last six years is really viable, and whether it could become the new “subprime” for the global financial system. In other words, could it cause another big bank crash like the one from which we are now recovering?

Both solar and wind are making great progress, as is electrical storage. By 2020, Denmark will be completely powered by wind. Spain is moving toward solar.

Bill Wyant, a friend, recently traveled through Spain, and says the effort is quite conspicuous to everyone. Utility-scale solar is being built all over the world. Companies in the United Arab Emirates have contracts to deliver solar power for as little as $59 per megawatt hour, as cheap as hydroelectricity.

Battery storage cost is falling fast. The IEA estimates that the cost of a lithium-ion battery for grid-scale storage has fallen by more than three-quarters since 2008. The batteries last over three times as long.

Research continues. At Harvard, a project to develop a large battery promises to cut costs two-thirds in three years and avoid use of rare earth minerals — a huge operational improvement.

The science papers on effects of fracking have been doubling yearly. The press and scientific experts no longer ignore health effects of fracking, long accepted by physicians. Drilling companies are big advertisers and generous donors to higher ed, but the evidence is too strong to counter. Campaigns for divestment from carbon energy are underway everywhere, even far from operations.

Banks don’t want drilling on mortgaged property because of loss of value, and insurance companies don’t want to pay for losses due to drilling contamination or accidents on one’s property. As I write this, an email comes from a person whose realtor said his house and land would be worth 75 percent less if a pipeline came on the lot. Day before yesterday, I had lunch with a man who had lost seven cows and a $20,000 horse since fracking began on his farm. Individual stories can be ignored, but when they are institutionalized by realtors, lending agencies and insurance companies, the reality is too powerful to ignore. They are a huge subsidy from the poorest property owners to the industry.

Disposal of huge quantities of waste is a growing problem, since people are coming to understand its properties. Once it was dumped in streams and on roads to keep the dust down. It is “brine,” but not simply table salt dissolved in water. Pumping brine underground is controversial, because in a place or two it has caused earthquakes. In dry California, it has been used to irrigate crops, but this is quite controversial, too.

Liability is a constant problem. A jury awarded the Parr family $3 million in damages for the fracking-related impacts caused by Aruba Petroleum’s operations near their home in Texas. Public Broadcasting estimates 100 claimants have filed in West Virginia alone. These are nuisance and negligence largely, although at least one multimillion-dollar suit in Central West Virginia has been for retained royalty. The rest involve 50 suits in Harrison and Doddridge primarily, but also in Pleasants, Kanawha, Ritchie, Marion and Monongalia.

Religious considerations are entering the arguments about extreme extraction. Numerous religious groups have come out to say ethics require consideration of effects on people and the environment — this is the only planet we can live on; we must protect it.

A few claim humanity has the right to “dominion over the earth,” but most claim it is a garden for us to cultivate and protect. Pope Francis, leader of the largest organized religious group on earth, has said causing climate change is a “sin” — the word he used.

There are other problems, such as traffic congestion, beauty of the landscape is altered, noise, odors, lights at night and other quality-of-life issues. The community must provide housing and meals for people who come in very dirty after work, who have irregular hours — workers with money living away from family.

Of course, the white elephant in the room is the carbon dioxide that comes from burning carbon-containing compounds for energy. Also, the emission of methane, a far more serious greenhouse gas, resulting from use of natural gas.

There is an active denial campaign, financed by those who have a lot to lose from keeping hydrocarbons in the ground, but practically all of the scientific community who have studied it are quite unified.

Much of the evidence is easily understood, such as the ability of carbon dioxide and methane to retain infrared heat, known for over 100 years; melting of glaciers, since there are plenty of historical photographs; changing temperatures of air and sea waters; movement of flowering to earlier dates; and change of migration of birds. The monsoon rains in Asia are coming later and later.

On the other hand, some evidence is not subject to common-sense argument, because it involves airflows from equator to the poles, currents circulating in the sea, and why more water evaporates from a warm sea. These things are known to those who study these phenomena, but not to the general public.

No one expects extraction of hydrocarbons to completely stop; they are important inputs for the chemical industry. Coal and oil are needed to make many things from plastics to pharmaceuticals. Gas is the source of nitrogen fertilizer and hydrogen. I remember Dr. Lazzell, who taught my organic chemistry class at WVU, saying, “You can make such valuable things from hydrocarbons, it is a shame to burn them.” That was about 1962, over 50 years ago.

But we must stop using the atmosphere as a dump for byproducts of making energy. More and more realize this as time passes.

The organization against extreme energy extraction is growing. I have a list of over 250 organizations opposed to fracking. Real progress is being made on the level of local government. Even Wisconsin, which provides the sand, has organizations against fracking

We humans have 10,000 years of civilized past. There is no reason we should forfeit an even longer future if we can listen to the wisest among us and choose a new rational path, as we humans have often had to do before. For the sake of the future of mankind, we cannot continue to spoil the surface and use the atmosphere as a dump — it is not infinite.

See also: www.FrackCheckWV.net

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lesley Thwaits June 21, 2015 at 8:57 am

Wonder how we get to the IMF? Can we rethink this $ 5.7 TRILLION subsidy to the fossil fuel industry. Personally this is a crock o’ shit that i really don’t want to support.


S. Thomas Bond July 4, 2015 at 10:12 pm

Right on.
What justification does the IMF have subsidizing a mature, very lucrative business? Is it a “random act of kindness?”

Do they want to set the world on fire? Surely they recognize an item that size on their books, its not just a “mistake!”


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