Environmentalist doesn’t tell the whole story

A good friend of mine tipped me off to this op-ed in the Baltimore Sun from March 5 and encouraged me to write a rebuttal. The paper wouldn’t take it as an op-ed nor run a shortened version as a letter, so in the spirit of never letting good writing go to waste I’m posting it here.

As the energy industry has arrived in our state in hopes of extracting the natural gas which lies underneath in the Marcellus Shale formation, the term fracking has become part of our vocabulary. As a Maryland resident who has no stake in the energy industry, aside from my role as a consumer of those elements used to create the gasoline and electricity I need for my various jobs and the heating oil I use to heat my hot water and household, my main concerns are twofold: reliable energy which doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg. I suspect those concerns are shared by a vast majority of us.

The cost competitiveness and abundant supply of natural gas gives Americans a great asset, but only if we choose to take advantage of it. This choice, though, is one environmentalists want to frighten us away from because natural gas is not a renewable source. And it’s obvious that some people just can’t stand prosperity as a recent op-ed by Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune demonstrates.

In his piece Brune disparages the entire natural gas industry with a palette of half-truths and wild assumptions. But the bad news for Marylanders is that Brune seems to have the ear of Governor O’Malley. It’s obvious that both are only too happy to impact the coastal environment of the Atlantic as well as areas of western Maryland by building noisy, unreliable, and unsightly windmill farms because they’re perceived as the politically correct thing to do, but those tried and true methods of getting the energy and job creation our state desperately needs are unappealing to them.

And the allegations that Brune makes don’t stand up to scrutiny. For example, hydraulic fracturing has been used in more than one million oil and natural gas wells in the United States since the 1940s, and despite Brune’s strictly anecdotal reports to the contrary not one confirmed case of groundwater contamination stemming from fracturing has been documented, according to a recent University of Texas study. And regarding his shrill warnings about the dangers of piping the natural gas he fails to mention that natural gas is already piped to points across the country via a network spanning well over 300,000 miles nationwide – including almost 1,000 miles lying under Maryland and Washington, D.C. An existing pipeline already services the Cove Point LNG terminal!

One has to wonder why Brune isn’t telling you those facts I easily found with a little bit of research. Perhaps it’s because he wants us to “invest in” (read: subsidize with taxpayer dollars) sources like wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as emphasize energy efficiency. Most of us realize taxpayers can pump all the money we want into these sources but we can’t spend our way into making the wind blow just the right speed to make turbines work effectively all the time, nor can we compel the sun to shine 24 hours a day. Geothermal energy is more promising, but has a limited amount of effectiveness and also requires hazardous pipeline fluid chemicals to handle the wide temperature swings.

And while we should strive for cost-effective energy efficiency, it shouldn’t come with a price tag of reducing our standard of living. A shuttered coal plant is neither efficient nor a job producer, but it’s a badge of honor to a radical like Brune. For those placed out of work by the closure, though, it’s only their economic livelihood they’re losing. No doubt Brune and O’Malley would gladly “invest” government dollars into teaching them the skills needed for a non-existent “green” job.

Environmentalists could be taken more seriously and provide a better service to residents by not obfuscating their argument with scare tactics. Most people have the sense to know that fossil fuels won’t be around forever, but for the foreseeable future the market favors reliable sources of energy including natural gas. If you’re enjoying the current decline in natural gas prices and the resulting extra money in your pocket, you can thank hydraulic fracturing because it’s that decades-old “new” technology increasing supplies, driving down prices, and actually bringing back a discussion about helping our nation’s balance of trade by exporting natural gas.

Who would have ever thought we could beat OPEC at its own game? Let’s put Maryland to work building for the prosperity of tomorrow by making use of that which we have in abundance.

2 thoughts on “Environmentalist doesn’t tell the whole story”

  1. Exxon is the largest producer of natural gas, as well as the largest distributor of refined fuel products. Exxon has no interest in offering natural gas as a transportation fuel, even though that would provide the greatest savings to the public. A considerable amount of the natural gas is now being exported where Exxon can sell it for 4 to 6 times the market price in the US.

    As for the Keystone pipeline, a large portion of the oil transported by this future project will also be exported. There is a glut of oil in places like Cushing, because the US does not have the refining capacity to turn all of the oil that we are producing into gasoline. The oil companies also do not have the infrastructure to drill all of the existing oil exploration leases, so opening new areas will have no impact on current oil prices. Oil companies own inactive leases on Gulf of Mexico area equal to the size of the state of Georgia. They don’t have enough rigs to drill what is currently available.

    The whole truth isn’t being told by your side either.

  2. So, you don’t think oil companies should take advantage of market conditions? Since you point out that there’s a lack of refining capacity (and you’re correct) would it not make sense that perhaps there’s a “wait and see” approach being adopted here?

    There hasn’t been a new refinery built in the U.S. since the 1970s and this summer four refineries on the East Coast are closing because they’re either no longer profitable or can’t be brought up to environmental standards. But I suspect that once areas are opened up for drilling, without the fear of having the door slammed shut in their face again, oil companies may see it’s wise to begin investing in more refining capacity.

    And something you left out in your comment on inactive leases in the Gulf is that moratorium on permitting placed by the Obama administration. See, you have the system gamed to win either way: if oil companies begin utilizing their leases you’ll complain it’s only a matter of time until we have the next Deepwater Horizon disaster, on the other hand if these leases aren’t used you’ll say what you did.

    I think we’re a lot closer to the truth on our side than the rhetoric from the left would ever sniff at.

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