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Keep It in the Ground? No, Give Us More Please and Faster!

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K.J. Rodgers
Crownsville, Maryland  

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There is a lot more to natural gas and other fossil fuels than energy and fuel, although Keep It in the Ground types would have us believe otherwise.

The biggest misconception anti-gas activists like to push is that there are real alternatives to fossil fuels in most every case. I see one fellow regularly comment on NaturalGasNow posts on Facebook saying just that. He never follows up with fact or responds when people ask him to elaborate. This is the gist of the anti message; that we can simply replace gas and oil. These are your typical “Keep It in the Ground” people.

Aspirin, paints, plastics, medical devices and medicine all come from oil and natural gas. This phony “Keep It in the Ground” movement, such as it is, overlooks not only the $1,800 dollars Americans are saving by using natural gas today, but also the everyday things it supplies that we depend on. From luxuries to necessities, they all depend on getting it out of the ground. The few times they bring up alternates to plastics, they play the hemp card; as if it has merit, as it was safer.

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The problem with this nonsense isn’t just the obvious lack of understanding of America’s energy and associated infrastructure needs. There’s also a lack of understanding of what they are touting to be safe. I laugh and cry a little bit every time someone says to me that solar is safe. The idea of solar sounds cool and fancy, but truth being told, it has a lot more issues than they care to admit.

First, the production of solar panels require a massive amount of raw materials, that need to be purified with hydrochloric acid and other green chemicals. These raw materials are not grown; they are mined out the ground. Then the remainder of the manufacturing process involves other very toxic chemicals that have been a huge problem for the industry. The Associated Press wrote about this a few years ago. Often times the waste is trucked hundreds or thousands of miles away for storage and processing. The extra carbon footprint is not included in the solar’s calculations – making it seem greener than it really is. Meanwhile, fracking fluid is recovered at a 90% or more rate and reused.

Second, there is the water contamination. “Keep It in the Ground” types love to mistakenly say the fracking process has contaminated drinking water supplies. They have yet to show a case where hydraulic fracturing did so, relying instead upon methane issues that always pre-date the application of the process. Solar panel production, though, has contaminated ground water. One Chinese Manufacturer, in fact, was accused of dumping the waste right into a river.

All technology will come to the end of its life cycle, but one big problem facing solar is the lack of recycling. These panels are often not recycled and end up in a landfill. If precautions are not taken, damaged panels can leak gallium arsenide into the water. This is similar to those fighting coal ash disposal at landfills. I wonder if the “Keep It in the Ground” folks would boycott a solar manufacture or landfill in their neighborhoods with as much distain as they have some natural gas companies.

solar-panel-fire-on-roofLast, when I was in the Marine Corps, I served as a firefighter. It was a cool job that put me through one of the finest fire academies in the world. However, I could not even begin to think about the difficulties of venting a burning structure with solar panels. Many firefighters have had difficulties in their duties when a solar panel is involved. Having the extra weight on the roof making collapse even more eminent and the 600 Volts running from the panels makes this job even more dangerous. Some have simply decided to let things burn in those cases.

Keeping it in the ground, of course, isn’t the real objective. It’s just rhetoric intended to further political agendas and special interests. Fossil fuels, and especially oil and gas, will be with us for a long, long time. There simply are no substitutes in most cases and those that are available are no better or more safe. That’s the reality. Instead, we need more, please and faster.

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4 thoughts on “Keep It in the Ground? No, Give Us More Please and Faster!

  1. While I don’t disagree with your basic premise, I have to point out several incorrect statements and omissions in your article. Your statement that “They have yet to show a case where hydraulic fracturing did so, relying instead upon methane issues that always pre-date the application of the process”. You’re correct that fracing has not been found to contaminate a water supply, but to say that these methane issues always pre-dates the activity is simply wrong. Analysis of the gas in the affected water supplies (and in particular, the isotopic data) substantiates the fact that, at least in some cases, the gas is in fact caused by poor well construction. An entirely solvable problem, but one you shouldn’t simply gloss over.
    Second, your statement that “fracking fluid is recovered at a 90% or more rate and reused” is misleading; only roughly 10-20% of the water that is injected into the well is recovered; of that, upwards of 90% is reused. Again, a great track record, but spinning this fact simply provides ammunition for the antis.
    Finally, on the omissions front- while it’s true that current solar panel construction relies on some pretty nasty chemicals and processes, you should look at some of the innovative and green processes that are coming out of the research into solar technology. While these are not yet mature and available technologies, I would maintain that there is more likelihood than you acknowledge that solar technology will indeed be a truly green practice sooner than you think.
    I’d like to close by agreeing again with the premise that petroleum products and natural gas provide a great many products we’ve taken for granted for many years, and will be valuable for these products for many years to come. I just don’t like that you’ve manipulated some of these facts to fit your thesis- that’s a bit too much like the antis.

    • Your points are all good ones with which we generally agree but the article doesn’t say exactly what you alleged either. I know because I edited this line. It says “relying instead upon methane issues that always pre-date the application of the process.” Methane issues, in fact, do always occur, when they occur, with the drilling process and not the fracking process, which, of necessity comes second. This is not to gloss over the methane issue. It does occasionally happen with drilling a gas well; there’s no doubt about it, but it’s relatively rare now and can just as easily take place in drilling a water well or a geothermal well (read our piece on the Owego school wells, for example) and it has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Drilling is the culprit and drilling always take place before fracking.

      • That’s not a very good justification, considering that the particular fracking-related drilling that affects groundwater would not have been taking place in the absence of fracking. Whether or not your conclusion that any-well-will-have-the-same-effect is correct, Methane wells are drilled in such close proximity and with such rapidity that they still have a significant cumulative effect on local groundwater quality. It’s still a direct causal relationship to the construction and operation of Methane wells, regardless of how you spin it.

  2. Hello again.
    Aspirin and all its ingredients are (and always have been) derived from biological sources.
    To say “all paint is made from fossil fuels” is incorrect. Acrylic mostly is. Oil Paint is, ironically, not.
    Most plastics are made from natural gas, but bioplastics exist and are growing as an industry.
    “Medical devices and medicine” come from exceedingly varied sources. Which parts, specifically, do you think are solely dependent on fossil fuels?
    The source you’ve linked for this information does not even mention the modern production of Aspirin, paint, medical devices or medicine.

    The article you’ve linked about hemp has nothing to do with plastics. Ethanol, the main ingredient required to synthesize most bioplastics, can be produced more efficiently from a myriad of other crops. Why did you link that article?

    The idea that you think natural gas pipelines require significantly fewer resources than solar panels per kilowatt-hour is laughable. Do you think hundreds of miles of 30+” steel pipes are grown? Or perhaps that the infrastructure is made from recycled fracking fluid? Solar is improving its production processes a lot faster than Methane is.

    What that one solar manufacturing plant did was not okay. I do not defend them. Here’s a bajillion times the fracking industry did the same thing. https://www.facingsouth.org/2016/09/will-gulf-mexico-remain-dumping-ground-offshore-fracking-waste
    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140519/illegal-dumping-texas-frack-waste-caught-video
    http://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/index.ssf/2014/08/youngstown_contractor_sentence.html
    http://enenews.com/owner-charged-with-felony-for-dumping-fracking-waste-faces-years-in-prison-full-tanker-trucks-of-toxic-fluid-directly-into-storm-drain-crews-monitoring-for-radioactivity-video

    Methane, I might remind you, is not exactly recyclable either…

    I can see why solar panels might make the job of a firefighter more dangerous. Now, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you’d rather be fighting a fire in a building with an old natural gas heating system.
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/natural-gas-explosion-pennsylvania-creates-massive-fireball-38767900
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-puc-san-bruno-fire-20140903-story.html
    It’s not really equivocal, is it?

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