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.
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.
Last, 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.