Fracking — the energy silver bullet solution that hurts

December 18, 2013

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

A Rockford-area installer’s potential customer recently decided against a solar hot water system because he could continue to meet his hot water needs using low-priced natural gas. Using the current price of a fuel as a guide is seen as a rational short-term decision, but ignores the long-term risk that comes from the volatile history of natural gas prices and periodic shortages.

If the solar hot water system had been installed, the price of the sun’s heat would have been constant for the life of the system, while the adverse consequences of fossil fuel combustion would have been avoided.

While using the sun as a heat source has diminished, its use in providing electricity continues dramatic growth. The prices of such systems have fallen considerably in recent years, and are expected to continue to fall with ongoing improvements.

While energy prices send a clear message to potential customers, there are numerous studies indicating that prices fail to reflect their true environmental costs. It is reasonable to conclude the same principle is likely to hold in regard to fracking for natural gas.

The current low price of natural gas brings with it many economic benefits over the short term, while its adverse consequences are ignored or considered something to clean up later after adequate profits are secured.

With federal environmental protections swept aside, the natural gas industry has been left to carry out its industrial processes without government regulation. Its absence allows the industry to expand quickly and establish a dominant market presence, limiting the expansion of other energy options. Given the sheer size of the enterprise, ignoring major adverse consequences is a cause for concern.

In his book, Shale Gas: The Promise and the Peril, Vikram Rao provides a fascinating overview of the fracking industry. In his concluding chapter, he describes the promise of shale gas as having the potential to improve the economic lot of every U.S. citizen while improving the human condition worldwide. In the author’s view, this low-cost energy source is a tide that lifts all boats of economic growth.

Implied in the author’s view is that shale gas is the long-sought silver bullet solution that could provide another 100 years of economic growth while delaying the arrival of the solar solution. Ignored is the reality of the extensive environmental damage that heedless economic growth has already imposed on the health of the planet and human well-being.

In the absence of effective federal regulations, both local communities and state governments are busy designing regulations to control the industry. Leaving regulations up to individual states puts them in competition for the economic benefits from fracking and can undermine strong efforts to protect the public interest.

In Illinois, the Environmental Law and Policy Center has sent out an alert addressing their concern about how proposed regulations by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will undermine existing legislation that is seen as providing the strongest fracking standards in the nation (see “Tell IDNR to Hold the Fracking Industry Accountable – ELPC Action Center”).

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Dec. 18-24, 2013, issue

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