Readers Write: Energy solutions are not so simple

The Island Now

One of the most glaring pieces of misinformation (out of many) in Hildur Palsdottir’s Jan. 14 article (“Plastics pollution’s key role in global warming”) concerns natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, also called fracked gas.

She says “it’s certainly a misnomer to call fracked gas ‘natural’ ”. Actually, there is no difference between natural gas produced by fracking and the natural gas that flows from conventional wells.

Fracking technology has been used in oil and gas production for more than 60 years; it is used to crack rock miles beneath the surface that is so dense the embedded gas or oil cannot flow as it does from more porous formations. In recent years the use of hydraulic fracturing has unlocked immense reserves of gas and oil making the U.S. the preeminent energy producer.

In fact, the most significant reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been achieved through the production of abundant cheap natural gas through fracking which rapidly displaced coal as the principal fuel for generating electricity.

The idea of a fossil-fuel-free economy is a pipe dream for the foreseeable future. Even if a breakthrough technology comes on the scene, the transition would take decades.

Along with natural gas and coal the principal fossil fuels are gasoline, heating oil, diesel, jet fuel, and propane all of which make modern life possible.

Think of the misery when the electricity goes out for days on end after a storm. How would you recharge the car batteries?

Ethane is a component of natural gas and petroleum – fracked or otherwise – and is a principal building block for the chemical industry.

Ethylene, derived from ethane, is the basic material not only for polyethylene plastic but also thousands of other products including other industrial chemicals, antifreeze, detergents, synthetic lubricants, pharmaceuticals – the list goes on.

Renewable energy, so beloved of environmentalists, comes with its own environmental baggage. The mining and refining of lithium and cobalt, key materials for electric car batteries and the rare earths used in car motors and wind turbines are not exactly environmentally benign processes. And since it is still early days for the use of electric cars what will be the impact of large-scale disposal of spent car batteries?

Windmills bring their own problems. They can have a devastating impact on bird and bat populations, both of which play a vital role in controlling rodent populations.

Polysilicon is the key raw material for solar cells and its production is energy-intensive. China is the principal world supplier of polysilicon.

To supply the power it needs to make these products and generally support its industrial growth, China is also commissioning new coal-fired power plants.

An article last year in “Yale Environment 360,” a publication of the Yale School of Environment, reported that in 2020, China brought 38,400 megawatts of new coal-fired power into operation, “more than three times what was brought online everywhere else.”

The issues of a changing climate, CO2 emissions. the role of industrial activity and the impact on the economy and jobs are complex and really cannot be boiled down to a simplistic conclusion of fossil fuels and plastics, bad; renewable energy, good.

Sam Glasser

Port Washington

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