NY Times: Hydraulic Fracturing: “Cleaner than Coal”

by L J Furman, MBA on May 23, 2012

in Energy, Hydraulic Fracturing, Negawatts, Renewable, Sustainable

Helicopter Cruising Greenland Ice Sheet

Helicopter Cruising Greenland Ice Sheet

To Make Fracturing Safer,” editorial, in May 11, 2012, begins “Gas … is cleaner than coal” and concludes “Oil and and gas drilling will always be a risky business; the administration cannot let pass this opportunity to make it safer.”

Clean and Green within 18 is the opportunity the Administration should not let pass. We should – MUST – shift to 100% sustainable energy in 18 years! Solar, wind and other sustainable energy systems do not require fuel and day-to-day operations do not create waste. Thus these “negafuelwatt” systems are clean; not just “cleaner than coal.” And they are also cleaner than oil, gas, and nuclear power.

Back in the 1970’s, Amory Lovins, who later founded the Rocky Mountain Institute coined the term Negawatts. “The least expensive unit of energy, Lovins said, is the one you don’t have to buy.  It’s also the cleanest.  I may have been the first to use the term Nega-Fuel-Watt: The next least expensive, and next cleanest sources of energy DON’T USE FUEL!

The Times assertion that “gas … is cleaner than coal” is not a ringing endorsement. The deep ice of the Antarctic, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the glaciers of the Himalayas are clean. The beaches of the Emerald Coast of Florida were clean.  Operating rooms in hospitals should be clean. But coal is incredibly dirty. In addition to carbon dioxide, mining, transporting, and burning coal releases into the biosphere a mess of toxic heavy metals from A to Z, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, thorium, uranium, and zinc. “Cleaner than coal,” is like “more humanitarian than Bashir al Assad.”  Almost everything is cleaner than coal.

But we don’t know if gas from fracking is cleaner or more polluting than coal. The 2005 Bush Cheney Energy Bill created the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” (see earth works action, and enviropolitics blog) which exempted gas drilling from the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. We don’t know what’s in the millions of gallons of wastewater per well that must be cleaned or how much time, energy and resources will be required to clean that water.

We do know that solar, wind, geothermal, marine current, and other sustainable energy systems  are cleaner than coal, oil, fracking, and nuclear power systems because they do not require fuel and therefore, once deployed, and other than maintanence and decommissioning, do not create an ongoing waste stream.

This is the opportunity that the Administration should not let pass: “Putting in place the systems that will shift the paradigm to 100% renewable and sustainable energy in 10 to 25 years.” We could do it. President Kennedy challenged this nation to “Send a man to the moon and bring him back safely in 10 years.” We didn’t have the technology. But we had the will and we found the way. Not just once, but six times (NASA / Wikipedia). This challenge is both easier and harder. We have the technology.  But we need to do it on a very large scale. And we need the will.



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