“The country has been handed an incredible gift with the Marcellus Shale. With an estimated 500 trillion cubic feet of reserves, it is widely believed to be the second-largest natural gas field ever discovered. Which means that those of you who live near this tremendous resource have two choices. You can…employ environmental scare tactics to fight attempts to drill for that gas, or you can embrace the idea that America needs the Marcellus Shale…but insist that it be done properly.”
I’m neither for nor against fracking, because the devil is in the details, and so far it hasn’t been done with the necessary care. As things now stand, I’d oppose it. But if strict techniques and oversight were enforced, that might be different.
The real underlying issue is: Where are we to get our power? Conservation is vital, but no amount will eliminate our need for lots of electricity. Solar and wind will be great adjuncts, but the wind doesn’t always blow and the Sun doesn’t always shine. There will always be a need for a major steady power source that doesn’t come and go. I’m hoping that geothermal will be that source, but we’re decades from seeing that developed.
Many are opposed to oil-burning because it’s increasingly expensive, foreign-dependent, pollutes and exacerbates global warming. Anyway, burning oil accounts for just one percent of our electric power generation. So let’s eliminate oil.
Many are opposed to nuclear power, though that has produced the fewest deaths and injuries even with the Japan situation. It helps alleviate global warming and currently creates 20 percent of our power. But it has an ongoing waste-storage issue, and it’s very expensive to build new plants today. Many people associate it with government, so that any inherent distrust of government becomes an automatic distrust of nuclear. Plus, there are fears of it being a terrorism target. Realistically, there will be no major expansion of nuclear in this country. So cross that off the list, too.
Natural gas? It’s the cleanest-burning fossil fuel and is currently cheap. It accounts for 23 percent of our electricity generation. The discovery of these huge reserves in the Marcellus shale means that it can be a major domestic source, independent of foreign vagaries. But again, many of our readers want it left alone in the ground. Cross that off, too?
Coal? This is the biggest fuel source for our nation’s electricity. It’s cheap and domestic. It creates 45 percent of our power. Our readers have thus far uttered not one peep of complaint about it, and yet this is by far the worst fuel. It pollutes mightily. It’s the number-one contributor to global warming.
Its evils go far deeper than acid rain: Most epidemiologists say that it kills 25,000 Americans a year. Even the most coal-friendly sources admit that it kills 12,000 people from lung diseases like emphysema and cancer. Are you kidding? Twelve thousand? Imagine if a nuclear accident killed 12,000 Americans some year. The outcry would be so deafening that all 103 plants might be shut down. Why are these 12 to 25 thousand annual coal deaths so much less newsworthy than if even a dozen were lost from nuclear? Are these people less valuable?
I’ll tell you why: We’ve gotten used to dirty coal. It makes no headlines. It has generated not a single letter here. So the slaughter will continue unabated into the future.
Hydro? Well, many manage to complain about salmon not being able to return home and stuff like that, but it’s generally well-liked. Unfortunately, we’ve built just about all the hydropower plants that we can, and the seven percent of our power it produces is not going to increase.
My point? You have to choose your poison. Generating electricity is not like singing folksongs. It’s a massive enterprise, with negatives attached to all steady sources. If you want to be realistic, never compare a power plant with its simple absence. For example, Governor Cuomo has said, “Close Indian Point.” I agree that closing Indian Point would be better than having it there. But that’s not the situation. Instead, you have to compare it with some realistic replacement. Close Indian Point and you have to build three new power plants – probably run by coal, but possibly by gas. People will die, your electric bill will jump up and you’ll have boosted global warming. Now do you still want to close it?
Maybe you do. For this article, I’m not advocating one way or the other. I’m merely saying that choosing our steady energy sources always involves tradeoffs. It’s never as simple as activists, or those with vested interests, would have you believe.