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What about future energy needs? – Jurgen Pape, Columnist

What about future energy needs? – Jurgen Pape, Columnist

Looking ahead, the future isn’t so gloomy that we should give up.

Jurgen Pape
The first of two parts

Mankind’s energy needs, along with mankind itself, have increased for millennia. Water
and wind, the early available sources, were replaced by coal which spawned the
industrial revolution. Later, oil, gas and nuclear became the newer energy sources, all
thought to be inexhaustible.

All these newer sources, however, came with side effects and restrictions since they are
extractable and, by definition, limited. We now know that these later sources cause air,
water and radioactive pollution, directly or indirectly.

In a truly capitalistic society, these
negative effects are costs which should be added to their resulting (energy) products to
allow true competition and comparison. Pollution’s “collateral damage is a hidden cost
not reflected in the price of a given good or service.” (“Merchants of Doubt” by N.
Oreskes & E. M. Conway, 2010)

Besides local mine safety issues, burning coal has increased air pollution directly and
water pollution indirectly. Regulations have successfully countered some of these
problems at great public expense.

Centralia, PA, sits on a coal seam which has been burning since 1962 and cannot be
extinguished until the coal seam is exhausted, spewing carbon monoxide which
essentially vacated the town.

We are still finding new sources of coal but these are getting more expensive to extract.

Extracting gas also used to be a simple, albeit ineffective way of collecting it. With
fracking, the process has become much more efficient but often with some as yet
unforeseen consequences. The immediate problems range from air, noise and water
pollution to earth quakes as liquids are pumped under high pressure to thousands of
feet below the surface to fracture underlying strata to release gas. An enormous amount
of water is needed and discharged, some of it containing proprietary and probably toxic
chemicals. The discharged liquids also release toxic natural materials which were
locked in the earth’s crust.

Can we really expect the concrete sleeves (assuming they
were placed correctly) poured down thousands of feet to remain sealed without
contaminating the ground water they pass through? Several communities have already
had problems. Talk about long-term effects: How do we plan for (remember, my articles’
super title is “Why Plan?”) and guaranty permanent safety?

Oil extraction is also not inexhaustible. Here also, the cost of extracting oil is increasing
and adds repercussions. To extract oil from shale, as is being done in Alberta, Canada,
for instance requires vast amounts of water in an area which receives relatively little. In
fact, this process competes directly with municipal and agricultural water requirements.
Ultimately, oil can be replaced but water, especially related to food production, cannot.
What are the long-term plans here?

Nuclear was perceived to become the answer to mankind’s quest for inexhaustible and
cheap energy but much of this is great in theory only. Disasters like Chernobyl in the
former Soviet Union and the more recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan
show that best laid plans can easily run into Murphy’s Law. (Had the generators at the
Japanese plant been placed on top of the units, the meltdown could most likely have
been prevented – poor planning, indeed.)

The bigger problem with nuclear power, however, is really long-term: Nuclear waste can
emit dangerous radioactive emissions for as long as 150,000 years! Please put this in
perspective: Early recorded human history goes back to the Egyptian era just a few
millennia ago. How can we ensure that nuclear waste remains safe much longer than
that? Where do we place this stuff? A few years ago, the US government sought out
“safe” nuclear waste repository sites. The last remaining contender was Yucca
Mountain, a deep fairly stable natural salt mine in Nevada. After spending $9 billion,
Yucca Mountain was cancelled. Absent that national site, nuclear waste is stored at
various nuclear plants throughout the country with poor long-term control and
monitoring, subject to terror attacks.

Now, is our future so gloomy as to give up? Of course not.

The following will be published in The Granville Sentinel as Part 2:

Instead of hoping that future generations will develop the technology to address energy
demands along with unstable waste, pollution and shortages of land and water, we can
apply modern technology to historic sources to move away from extractive and
exhaustible energy sources. (It is interesting that the poorest states and countries are
often where extractive industries are).

Extractible resources (oil, gas, coal, etc.) cannot be replenished. In the future, we may
come up with better methods, so let’s keep these sources where they are until
then. Contrary to this, solar, wind and hydro cannot be stored which means not
using them now is a total waste!

If you like long-term planning, consider this: The sun is about 4.5 billion years old and is
expected to remain stable for another 4.6 billion years!
“In less that 3 days, the solar energy reaching the earth is greater than the estimated
total of all reserves of fossil fuel.” (P. Kaufman & J.D.LaCroix in “Plants, People, and
Environment”; 1979)

“A farmer in Iowa can plant an acre of corn that will produce about $1,000 worth of
ethanol. But if he puts a wind turbine on that acre, he can generate #300,000 of
electricity per year.” (Lester Brown in Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2015)
Vermont’s largest power plant burns wood, a renewable source. “It provides 45% of
(Vermont’s capital Manchester) electricity, and it’s a net-zero emitter since trees
decomposing in the woods emit carbon, too.” (Christian Science Monitor, September 21,
2015)

Global warming has been getting some bad publicity especially when the local trends
seemed the opposite. Carbon dioxide and other gases have increased in the
atmosphere causing more meteorological extremes around the globe; the proper term
now is climate change which is hard to ignore. It is now also easier to separate natural
vs. man-made climate change. “But if the warming is caused by greenhouse gases
emitted at the surface and largely trapped in the lower atmosphere, then we expect the
troposphere to warm, but the stratosphere to cool. Sauter and his colleagues have
shown that the troposphere (close to earth) is warming and the stratosphere (above the
troposphere) is cooling. In fact, because the boundary between the two atmospheric
layers is in part defined by temperature, that boundary is now moving
upward.” (“Merchants of Doubt”). Whether climate change is caused by man or nature,
it behooves us to try to counter that trend now rather than later at higher costs.

There is a global awakening regarding renewable energy sources. To keep burning
fossil fuels is not only ignoring facts, but developing new energy sources creates many
more challenging and better paid jobs; they are also less land-destructive. The most
valuable commodities today are not extracted materials, in some cases not even
manufactured items, but high-valued technology helping to develop better energy
sources and jobs.

It is smart when energy companies switch to renewables to sustain their future
company’s viability along with public support.

To get this article back to a local level: The YES Club in Newark offers after school and
summer programs for teens. Volunteers just installed solar panels on their building to
reduce future energy needs and to help educate youngsters about exciting job
potentials.

jurgen pape sentinel
By:  Jurgen Pape

Published in the Granville Sentinel on November 5, 2015

‘Why Plan” is a  column by Jurgen Pape, a retired landscape architect in Granville, that will cover various areas where planning is important, especially in the realm of the environment and beyond. Pape has has served on the Granville Planning Commission, Sugarloaf Park Committee, Granville Land Conservancy (now Licking Land Trust) board, and Liking County Farmland Preservation Task Force among other boards.

One Response to “What about future energy needs? – Jurgen Pape, Columnist”

  1. Tom Pendergast says:

    Hi Jurgen!

    I’d like to comment on some of your statements:

    1. ” . . . oil, gas and nuclear . . . energy sources (are)
    thought to be inexhaustible . . . (but) they are
    extractable and, by definition, limited.”

    That’s right! Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve also learned how to use coal and hydrocarbon fuels a lot more efficiently and greatly mitigated their negative side effects. In addition, we keep discovering more coal and hydrocarbon resources. So many, in fact, that there is plenty available for generations to come in spite of growing populations. Might as well use it until some future generations find the equivalent of a perpetual motion machine for energy.

    2. ” . . . burning coal has increased air pollution directly and water pollution indirectly. Regulations have successfully countered some of these problems at great public expense.”

    Since the Industrial Revolution, air and water quality as well as lifespans are vastly better today than they were then. I submit that this has less to do with regulation and more to do with technological innovation, driven mainly by competition.

    Take nuclear power for example. Today “spent” fuel rods still contain uranium because they “burn” from the interior of the pellets, leaving “unburned” uranium on the shell of the pellets. Beryllium oxide cladding solves that problem by inducing complete “combustion” so there is no depleted uranium left to decay. Fusion may also one day offer another attractive option.

    3. “Extracting gas . . . has become much more efficient but often with some as yet unforeseen consequences . . rang(-ing) from air, noise and water pollution to earth quakes.”

    The Breymaiers live on North Street next to Gary Sitler’s oil and gas wells. Same with hundreds of people in Carroll, Harrison, Belmont and Noble counties. Are they suffering from air, noise and water pollution? Not according to the Ohio and Federal EPA as well as the recent University of Cincinnati study.

    “An enormous amount of water is needed . . . ” Compared to what? A golf course? Oil and gas wells only consume water when they are fractured (no more than two or three times during the life of the well). Golf courses use irrigation throughout the summer, every year. ” . . . and discharged, some of it containing proprietary and probably toxic chemicals.” All chemicals used in fracturing operations must be reported to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources whether they are proprietary or not. If they are proprietary, they don’t need to be published but they are required by law to be disclosed to medical and emergency responders. “The discharged liquids also release toxic natural materials which were locked in the earth’s crust.” So if discharged liquids release toxic materials that were locked in the earth’s crust, why not inject them into an injection well to lock them back up again in the earth’s crust?

    4. “Can we really expect the concrete sleeves . . . poured down thousands of feet to remain sealed without contaminating the ground water they pass through?” Well yes, the state regulators such as the ODNR and EPA apparently think so. Furthermore, the “concrete sleeves” don’t extend thousands of feet; only just a few feet below the water table or drinking water aquifer.

    5. ” . . . the cost of extracting oil is increasing . . . ” It is actually getting cheaper, both onshore and offshore. Its not only getting cheaper, productivity is increasing!
    “To extract oil from shale, as is being done in Alberta, Canada . . .” It’s not shale; it sand. ” . . . for instance requires vast amounts of water in an area which receives relatively little.” The oil in Alberta is extracted in situ, underground by heating the oil sands with steam which is circulated in a closed loop system. “In fact, this process competes directly with municipal and agricultural water requirements. Ultimately, oil can be replaced but water, especially related to food production, cannot. What are the long-term plans here?”
    In northern Alberta where the Canadian oil sands are, the major agricultural crops are wheat, oats, barely and peas (livestock raising is generally not profitable there), which are not particularly water intensive. Since 1995, northern Alberta agricultural productivity and employment have been rising robustly. There is no shortage of water. A map of Alberta looks very much like a map of Minnesota. As a result of the development of oil sands production, road and rail networks are expanding which do much to accommodate both the extractive and agricultural sectors in northern Alberta.

    6. By 2040, renewables are not expected to account for much more than 10% of the energy mix, either in North America or globally. Hydrocarbons, nuclear and coal will still account for most of the energy mix. Many of the jobs in those industries are quite high tech and very well paying. I don’t think you can say the same for renewables. Well, windmills and battery technology are pretty high tech. On the other hand, those are pretty concentrated industries, not widely dispersed.

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