The United States is a giant in the global energy industry, at least currently. This can change if the Russian-funded “keep-it-in-the-ground” folks enjoy continued success in obstructing energy production.
Unfortunately, the war against oil and gas has reached Maryland, and it is going to do more than block the construction of pipelines and prevent consumers and businesses from deriving the benefits of affordable shale gas.
These groups do not understand or simply do not care if their efforts negatively impact Maryland’s economy and drive up energy prices – with a disproportionate impact on the low-income population.
Influential environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council are well-funded and mobilized, and are unapologetic about the consequences of shutting down oil and gas production.
Environmental activists claim fracking in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale formation is harming water quality and human health, when in fact, EPA and independent environmental studies say the production of natural gas is being done safely.
At the same time, natural gas companies are making progress in recycling wastewater and reducing methane emissions.
We know pipelines to bring shale gas from Pennsylvania to Maryland and other states are essential if we hope to drive our economy and further reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Yet obstructionists reject the idea natural gas has any place in the U.S. energy future. Their goal is to halt natural gas and oil production. In addition to disrupting fossil fuel production, environmentalist oppose all methods of energy shipments, especially pipelines.
In general, pipelines are the safest method of fuel transportation. Nationally, dozens of environmental groups are involved in a “keep-it-in-the-ground” campaign, zeroing in on oil and gas companies that provide 80 percent of the nation’s energy and 12 million jobs.
The environmentalists maintain the burning of fossil fuels anywhere in the world is an environmental curse – and the only way to prevent the worst effects of climate change is to move beyond gas to renewable energy sources.
The proponents of solar and wind know the combination of these two technologies account for just slightly more than 3 percent of America’s energy supply and 7 percent of the nation’s electricity, despite generous help from federal tax credits and state mandates for renewables.
Globally, solar and wind supply 2 percent of energy. Renewable proponents know the implausible effort required to move to an all wind and solar energy economy – and are not interested in the significant risks and costs.
Currently, wind and solar are unreliable sources of energy and require a dependable supply of electricity, usually powered by fossil fuels, when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. This is because there are few options for large-scale energy storage to be used on days when solar and wind are of no use.
Should solar and wind be part of the U.S. energy mix? Perhaps, but only if accurately evaluated using realistic assumptions and data.
Can solar and wind deliver economic and environmental benefits at an affordable price at this time? While the cost of producing solar and wind power has dropped dramatically since 2008 – 71 percent for utility-scale photovoltaics and 75 percent for wind turbines —- integrating renewables on the electric grid is complex and expensive.
Although the cost of wind and solar power has declined, neither is economically viable without subsidies.
Here in Maryland, it makes a lot more sense to meet the need for low carbon dioxide energy with a balanced mix of natural gas and nuclear energy.
Regrettably, some members of Congress have introduced a “Keep-It-in-the-Ground” bill aimed at shutting down the production of oil and natural gas. Its passage would likely destroy the country’s standard of living.
By banning the production of fossil fuels, the measure would sacrifice the public good for the promise of a solar and wind future in which energy poverty is the norm. Americans would come to regret this bill.
Fossil fuels are critical commodities in modern society supporting a vibrant and dynamic economy. Instead of pretending they don’t have a future, more attention needs to be paid to developing innovative ways to burn coal, petroleum products and natural gas with higher efficiencies and lower emissions.
Consider the progress the U.S. has made in lowering energy production emissions. According to the US Energy Information Administration, since 2006, carbon dioxide emissions from power plants have dropped to late 1980s levels – 1.9 million metric tons a year – from about 2.5 million metric tons a year.
In the same period, sulfur dioxide emissions plummeted from 9,524 metric tons to 1,807 metric tons, and nitrogen oxides fell from 3,799 metric tons to 1,630 metric tons.
With energy consumption expected to grow substantially during the next 30 years, we’d better be prepared. For all the talk about the prospects of wind and sun meeting all of our energy needs by mid-century, the evidence suggests it’s a bad idea, and we would pay a huge price for such shortsightedness in electricity shortages, in closed industries and in lost jobs.
Dan Ervin is a professor of finance at the Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University.
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