In a recent New York Times article, two new studies regarding natural gas have been released; one by Robert Howarth of Cornell University and another by David Hughes of the Post Carbon Institute. Both of these articles state that natural gas will be more harmful to the environment than coal or even oil.
The chief component of natural gas is methane, which is more efficient in trapping greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. This became a significant issue when studies found that methane is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities, close to 8%, than originally thought due to leaks in loose pipe fittings.
Two weeks ago, President Obama indicated that natural gas will be a significant part of the energy production vision for this country’s future. It has been suggested that the natural gas production is to increase by fourfold by 2035.
I am torn by the information that I have just read. I have always been a natural gas proponent, but the new studies have me doubting what the right course of action is for this country. If we are to increase natural gas production fourfold, that is a tremendous amount of methane emitted into the air. Add that to the environmental impact the increased amount of gas wells we will have at the time, has me questioning this method. The natural gas industry won’t tighten up on their production with reducing the amount of gas that leaks out into the atmosphere or capture the methane due to economic reasons. In addition, there are already many natural gas drill sites and to quadruple them has me in a doubtful state.
I do think natural gas can be a bridge to the renewable future combined with energy efficiency. However, a lot more validation of these studies must be done to verify their outcomes in order to be properly implemented.
Once again, the U.S. is missing out on an opportunity to solve this country’s current energy woes. President Obama has indicated that he would like for the U.S. to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. In his latest speech on March 30, 2011 at Georgetown University, he described how we will reduce oil imports by a third by 2035. In order for this to happen, the focus will be put on producing more electric cars and trucks that run on natural gas, and developing refineries to process billions of gallons of bio fuels. There was brief mention of using alternative energy to help with reducing our oil dependence, but nowhere was building efficiency mentioned. Research report after research report has indicated that building efficiency could be looked at as the next fuel.
Our current President is no different than the Presidents before him. President Nixon declared his intent to get us off foreign oil after the Arab Embargo; and President Carter looked to get us off foreign oil after the Iran hostage situation. President Bush made the same statements after the first Iraq war too. We have been saying this for decades but not doing anything about it.
I can’t put the blame solely on our President; look at the opposition he has had to deal with over his last two years. He killed Cap and Trade due to public pressure from the Republicans as it would cost too much. He tried to develop more offshore drilling, but the rig Deepwater Horizon had its accident. Lastly, he has been pushing nuclear production but, with the last episode in the earthquake/tsunami tattered nation of Japan, the public is now skittish and wants to close nuclear plants and never reopen them.
We have been doing a lot of talking, especially my favorite Senator from Michigan who feels we need to increase electrical capacity by 40-50% to meet the needs of electricity demand for the next decade. He is shooting for a long range plan. I don’t blame him for shooting. Maybe, Mr. Chairman, you can start on developing programs for energy efficiency in buildings which constitutes for 60% of our total consumption in this nation.
We need to set our political agenda aside and come up with a realistic plan. It is my humble opinion that this plan must start with being energy efficient, which is something we could all be doing now, without waiting for further technologies to be developed and implemented.
One of the first initiatives that the newly-elected Republican House Majority is working on is to dismantle what they deem as the “job-killing” Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations set forth by the current Executive branch (E.P.A. Faces First Volley From the House). Fred Upton, the new Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee is looking to slash the EPA budget, causing them to be incapable of enforcing some of the emission standards on greenhouse gases (GHG). His reason? He believes that jobs are being exported to other countries. According to the article, “[Mr. Upton] will use every resource available to protect American workers and our economy by rolling back the job-killing GHG regulations.” Once again, our elected government officials would rather sacrifice the well-being of our society, and future societies, in the name of the almighty dollar. But, the question becomes, “Are we looking at the big picture?”
It is true that the cost to generate a coal-fired plant may not be cost effective if in fact, current and more stringent GHG restrictions are passed. And, it is true that increasing restrictions on GHG emissions will cause coal plants to start to upgrade some of their emission controls causing extra costs, which (at some point) could wipe out coal-producing generator plants completely. However, to get to that point, we would need to have an infrastructure in place that could support new types of energy production and a smart energy grid to handle these new green power technologies. I can also say that the jobs that will be created to support all these measures will come from the USA – they just may not be found in Mr. Upton’s district.
I will admit that the current presidential administration has affected me personally in the areas of increased taxes and health insurance, which I am not happy about. What would make me even more unhappy would be to see the good things that this administration has done (such as making tighter restrictions on what we put in the air) being attacked for no good reason. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The jobs will not go overseas. What will happen is that the types of jobs will shift to more innovative technologies in this country, such as electric cars and solar panels. Jobs will also be created when coal plants choose to retrofit their facilities to provide reduced GHG, which will create tax revenue. It will be years before the effects of the EPA will affect the coal miners jobs. By that time, our economy will have recovered and jobs can be made available domestically, as well as abroad.
Let’s put our efforts on being a smarter country and being more energy efficient. Our focus should be on moving forward instead of savings jobs, just for the sake of saving jobs.
In a recent NY Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/science/earth/26climate.html), it was noted that the idea of ‘Cap and Trade’ has all but fizzled out as a potential energy policy for the current administration. President Obama, who supported the program in his initial budget, no longer supports it. The reason for this loss of momentum is the combination of opposition from the oil industry, several conservative groups and the recent Wall Street collapse. So, now what? We have no climate change policy.
‘Cap and Trade’ created a structure to gradually decrease, or cap, the amount of carbon emissions allowed by major emitters of pollutants (such as power plants). These companies would need to report the amount of carbon emissions they put into the atmosphere. Each company is given an allowance (i.e.: credit) of emissions they are permitted to release. Those who released less carbon emissions would keep their credits. However, those who exceed their cap must purchase carbon credits from those who have spare ones; in effect, paying for the right to pollute.
Our lawmakers have now decided to put together a program that is more economically diverse. Once again, Washington has done their job of creating more bureaucracy to yet another item this country so desperately needs. Global climate change needs to begin with the United States. Our success is key to getting other countries to buy-in on the idea.
Letting ‘Cap and Trade’ fall apart is wrong. Yes, the program was not perfect and was one more way of taxing our businesses. But, it was something and right now we have nothing. Now we get to wait until lawmakers determine which special interest groups they can serve, instead of doing the right thing and curbing emissions.