Happy Earth Day!
I learned a long time ago that there are no free lunches or as Tim McGraw said in his hit song How Bad Do You Want it “There’s always a price to pay no matter what you do.” That is certainly true when it comes to energy. We have no perfect energy source. Many of the “environmental” groups would have us believe that coal and natural gas are bad and wind and solar are good. I believe that there is a place and a need for all energy sources. The natural gas industry is a leading user of solar power for its field installations. The market place does a much better job than government of picking winners and losers. I used to think I knew what “green” energy is. We typically think of “green” energy as wind, solar, hydro, biomass etc. After what I have seen and learned in the last 6 years I’m not sure that I know any more.
We are starting to learn that wind and solar aren’t free or environmentally friendly. California has a solar installation that collects solar energy and beams it to a facility to turn water into steam that spins a turbine to produce electricity, a pretty creative idea. The only problem is that unsuspecting birds can’t see the beam. When they fly into it they are cooked on the spot. If that happened on a gas well site it would be front page news.
But the problems don’t end there. Windmills need rare earth metals that are produced almost exclusively in China in a very dirty process that pollutes the land, water and air. This process has killed farmland and made thousands of people ill. There are plenty of photos on the internet. We never hear about these toxic chemicals, maybe because they are halfway around the world. I guess out of site out of mind. We are still spaceship earth. The air and water pollution doesn’t stop at the Chinese border.
Many solar panels contain lead a potent neurotoxin, cadmium, a known carcinogen or nitrogen triflouride, a potent greenhouse gas. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition estimates that in the coming years over 1.5 billion pounds of this toxic waste used in solar panels will require disposal. What happened to reduce, reuse, recycle that we use in the natural gas industry?
Many “environmental” groups oppose exports of natural gas because they are supposedly worried about more “dangerous” fracking that has been around for over 60 years. Based on my experience of almost 40 years in the natural gas industry the three top causes of death for frackers are; tobacco, obesity and old age. Sound familiar. We are no different than the rest of the population. We know how polluted the air is in China and other developing countries. My engineering friends that consult in China always come back sick. They said the air pollution is horrific. On the CBS evening news we saw how elite Chinese schools have bubbles where children can have recess in clean air. What about the other children? Imagine growing up in that atmosphere.
US natural gas can be a clean source of energy for India, China and other countries around the world. We can continue to help to clean up the planet. Remember the air pollution from places like China and India eventually comes to our west coast impacting the USA. To implement the new EPA well site methane air regulations air pollution actually increases from conventional well sites. Methane is MONEY. Business doesn’t want to release it to the atmosphere they want to sell it. These new regulations are like requiring business to have someone follow the person carrying money to the bank so they can pick up any loose change or dollar bills so someone doesn’t slip on them. Sadly these regulations not only will damage the environment they will increase cost and paperwork. They may put more small producers out of business causing less wells to be drilled, less energy produced and less jobs leaving just the large companies. Isn’t it amazing that the alleged environmentalists and the EPA are doing all they can to prevent the natural gas industry from improving our planet’s environment by worrying about little things while China, India and developing countries poison the planet. If the goal is to reduce drilling and our domestic energy production they may succeed but they AREN’T helping the environment.
The same is true about the Keystone Pipeline. This is truly an environmental project. If oil doesn’t flow to Houston from Canada on Keystone to be refined under US environmental law it will be taken to the coast via rail and then put on a tanker to be taken to China for refining under Chinese environmental law polluting the planet. Where are the real environmentalists?
When we began development of the Marcellus Shale six years ago we knew that it could help our country’s energy situation. At the time we didn’t know what it would do to help the environment of the planet. We didn’t know that thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing natural gas would become so cheap and abundant that its expanded use would drastically reduce greenhouse gases. The United States is now at 1992 CO2 levels because of expanded natural gas use in power generation and in factories. We almost met the Kyoto treaty guidelines without reducing our standard of living and increasing taxes and costs of energy to everyone like many of the “environmental” groups wanted. This all happened thanks to market forces not government.
Factories like steel mills and chemical plants are now being built here in the US (under our environmental regulations) due to our cheap and now abundant energy supply. These plants would have been built overseas where there is little or no environmental law. We are moving to safer, more efficient and less polluting natural gas vehicles. This movement will create jobs and reduce costs to consumers since an equivalent gallon of natural gas is about half the cost of gasoline and diesel. CNG & LNG don’t require the polluting refining process to be used as vehicle fuel like gasoline and diesel further cleaning up the planet.
Reclaimed well sites and pipeline right of ways are creating a habitat for birds, small animals, butterflies, honey bees and deer. In Virginia a herd of elk is now thriving for the first time in over 100 years on reclaimed gas well sites. (That have been fracked.) The Audubon Society is coming out to these sites to view birds that they have not seen in this area for decades. You would never take the Audubon Society to a windmill site unless they wanted to see dead birds.
People in the natural gas industry don’t think of themselves environmentalists but that is what we have become based on what we are doing for the planet. Everything isn’t perfect and we always have room to improve but I predict that the natural gas industry will do more to clean up the planet in the next five years than we have already done. The only people that can stop this are the EPA and other alleged environmental groups. Maybe their agenda is different than the rest of us who want a clean plant and affordable dependable energy. We can always work with true environmentalists for the common good. Isn’t it time to put agendas aside and all work together for a cleaner planet and abundant, affordable energy that can raise the living standards of ALL people. Thoughts to ponder.
Greg Kozera is a father and grandfather. He is a registered professional engineer with a masters degree in environmental engineering and over 35 years of experience in the natural gas and oil industry including hydraulic fracturing. He is the author of 3 books and numerous articles and technical papers. His latest book “Just the Fracks Ma’am, The Truth about Hydrofracking” is available from all online outlets. Mr. Kozera is a member of the WVONGA Board of Directors and is also the current President of the Virginia Oil & Gas Association.