The fossil fuel quandary

Marietta Times

Apr 5, 2022

Vic Elam

Much is being made nowadays about a perception that the United States needs to increase fossil fuel production in the form of natural gas (methane) and oil production. The argument being that because of sanctions, we no longer receive oil from Russia and that we must, therefore, make up for that loss by producing more domestically. Another argument is that for Germany to reduce its reliance on Russian gas, we must again produce more domestically to ship to Germany. Furthermore, arguments have been made, that pipelines previously halted for environmental reasons, must now be fast tracked to completion to facilitate the transport of Canadian tar sands oil and for the transport of natural gas to coastal areas for shipment overseas.

Another school of thought is that we should heed the warnings of climate scientists and push hard at converting our fossil fuel dependency and replacing it with cleaner, greener, cheaper alternatives in the form of renewable energy such as solar and wind power. There are arguments for and against this transition to renewable energy and just as with fossil fuels there is a lot of misinformation. Thorough effort to verify the information presented has been made.

The argument for increasing natural gas production for exportation really doesn’t work. Even if pipelines were in place to bring natural gas to seaports, the gas would need to be converted to liquified natural gas for shipping and additional capacity to complete that conversion would have to be constructed. Construction would take substantial time; I don’t think anyone has a good handle on how long – how may have been impacted by the inability to get needed parts in this post-covid world? Also, the liquified natural gas would have to be converted back to gaseous form in Europe and facility capacity for that is lacking as well.

Similarly, increasing domestic oil production is not a quick process, nor is completing pipelines to transport oil. The dilemma is that as we try to move toward reducing our contribution of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, we are at odds with the sudden need to increase fossil fuel supplies. Further complicating the issue is that easily accessible fossil fuel reserves have long been depleted and extraordinary measures are required to extract remaining fuel reserves. The measures necessary to reach remaining reserves are often environmentally damaging as well.

The renewable energy advocates point to environmental harm from extracting remaining fossil fuel reserves, the climate change concerns from burning those fuels, the lives lost from fighting over fossil fuel reserves and more. The transition to renewable energy will take some time, yet climate scientists will tell you that time has about run out.

So, what’s a person to do. I like to put challenges like this through a cost benefit analysis. Simplified, my analysis looks like this: ramping up of fossil fuel production has many negative ramifications that are of a magnitude that we are really, just beginning to fully recognize. For increasing renewable energy, the ramifications are all positive except for the delay, and high fuel prices, which are artificially high but that is a whole different conversation.

Pushing aside our transition to renewable energy would be a huge mistake and ramping up domestic production is like hitting your thumb with a hammer to cure a headache – you might forget about your headache for a while, but it’s still there and now you have a sore thumb as well. Let’s do the right thing and move to a bright future free from our reliance on fossil fuels, if we put our minds to it, we can do it and the world will be a much better place for it.