Ben Hardesty’s talk to Rotary seriously needs a rebuttal. Fracking and pipelines are not a solution to West Virginia’s problems, but a continuation of the economic processes,which have brought us to our present condition. The extraction industry has been the primary employer since the state was broken off from Old Dominion Virginia in the Civil War. It has made few millionaires and a vast number of paupers. Our state has had an exiting population, and we are now down to the point we are in danger of losing a representative to Congress.
If pipelines are built, a guaranteed profit is locked in for big banks, because they will be paid for by the customers of cost plus utilities, regardless of how many or few there are. Once the pipes are in the ground, the good jobs will dwindle to a very few caretaker jobs. Laying the pipelines will require huge investment in equipment and provide jobs for highly skilled individuals, mostly men, who will move on. Permanent caretakers are less skilled, far less numerous and less well paid.
The fracking expected to follow will be similar. Each well provides good paying, but hard and dangerous, jobs for a few weeks, then it is run by far fewer and less paid individuals for about seven or eight years, when the well is no longer economically viable. Only about 6 or 7 percent of the gas down there can be brought to the surface, and along with it, comes vast quantities of liquid waste—chemicals sent down the well, and water and chemicals dissolved from the formation—which must be disposed of.
These are not your grandfather’s gas wells. You need to go to Doddridge County, or better, Wirt County, to see how it affects the surface, the forest, the roads and the people. If the vision of the frackers comes to pass, the population will be so depleted, several counties will have to be consolidated to support county governments.
At one time, not so long ago, gas was called “The Bridge to the Future.” Now, the song is that it “is” the future. In fact, there are competing technologies, collectively called “renewables” that are in a race.
Gas, along with oil and coal, have a serious problem. They are causing the earth surface to warm. When Glacier National Park was established, there were 150 glaciers, now there are only 25, and all are expected to be gone by or before 2030. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions per person measured in tons in 2012, were 16.4 for the U.S., 10.4 for Japan, 9.7 for Germany, 7.7 for the UK, 7.1 for China and 1.6 for India, according to estimates made in 2013, by the European Commission. The total U.S. CO2 emission for 2014, was over 7.5 million tons.
Carbon dioxide absorbs certain wavelengths of light and converts it into heat that you can feel, which warms the atmosphere and it warms the ocean and everything on the surface. Gas gives more heat for the carbon burned, because it contains a lot of hydrogen which burns, too, but the principle ingredient, methane, is a much more powerful “greenhouse gas” than carbon dioxide. It leaks in considerable quantity and makes gas about as bad as coal for global warming.
The real appeal of natural gas is that it is cheap, and doesn’t have many of the other elements in coal that also are serious health hazards. Florists employ around the same number of people as coal mines now, about 70,000.
There are almost unlimited possibilities for renewables. Wind generated 5.5 percent of electricity in the U.S. in 2016, and is on track to supply 10 percent by 2020. Nebraska is almost self-sufficient in wind power. The solar industry said it employed more than 260,000 as of 206, and that roughly one in 50 new jobs nationwide last year were in that industry.
An article appearing in The Guardian for Oct. 25, 2006, is titled: “Renewables made up half of net electricity capacity added last year.” This is what is going on in the entire world. A graph shows greater growth each year in the U.S., as well as other countries.
One reason that gas is successful is because of subsidies. Presently, these come largely in the form of tax breaks. The justification is that it keeps energy costs low. Renewables deserve subsidies, because they are clean, involve limitless supply of energy, and involve technologies that are improving with research.
Another reason gas is successful is because of all the costs of the drilling and transport that are laid off on other people. They don’t pay for reduced value of land, such as forest production prevented by pipelines, well pads and access roads. Some slight value may be paid, but not the value of the occupied land through time. They don’t pay for aquifers destroyed by production wells or injection of waste. They do not pay for health effects on people around fracking. Originally, when oil and gas was removed, no one thought about the value of such things in the long run.
Today’s fracking is operating under the extension of the old laws to a new and very different technology, and a much more dense population. At first, the industries tried to confuse well stimulation in sand stone with fracking in shale, but that has gone, by the way.
Third, the carbon dioxide is a cost to all of us, which is bitterly contested by the industry. People now, and even more in the future, are hurt by it. A negative subsidy in the form of a carbon tax is appropriate to make the cost of hydrocarbons compare correctly with renewables.
Dominion is the greatest political force in Virginia. It owns much of the political establishment—it is the largest corporate donor to state candidates. Its influence penetrates every level of government, from the Department of Environmental Quality, through both sides of the aisle in the legislature, to the Governor’s Mansion.
The 2017 Utility Energy Scorecard places Dominion as the second most inefficient utility in the nation, only Alabama Power rates lower. The scorecard is based on how the utility encourages customers to conserve energy. Duke Energy utilities and Southern Company (Alabama Power) are down there, too. What does this say about the owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline?
The pipelines are the wrong way to go, if one is thinking about the public and the course of technology.
S. Thomas Bond