Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to poison our planet

I do understand that civilization depends on fossil fuels right now, but our failure to fully invest in alternate energy is a losing game. The conventional wisdom is we can rely more on gas now because it's a safe fuel and we still have a lot of untapped deposits. But extracting gas is not that safe:
A natural gas well in the North Sea 150 miles off Aberdeen, Scotland, sprung a massive methane leak on March 25. The 238 workers were all safely evacuated. But the situation is so explosive that an exclusion zone for ships and aircraft has been set up around the rig, reports the Mail Online. And nearby rigs have been evacuated, reports the New York Times: [...]

Plus, the field produces sour gas: a potent mix of natural gas, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide. Twenty years ago the cost of extracting energy from such messy stuff would have been prohibitively expensive. Now, not so much. But the true cost could be brutal, reports the BBC :

The major threat to the local ecosystem is the hydrogen sulphide, which is toxic to virtually all animal life. "You might as well put Agent Orange in the ocean," says [Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK]. Because the leak is below the water's surface, the hydrogen sulphide is bubbling through the sea water. This is the worst-case scenario, says Boxall, because it could lead to mass animal and plant deaths. Boxall says Total needs to monitor the water quality to see if this is happening.
And most of our ground reserves are in shale deposits which require extraction by fracking. A practice the industry insists is safe, until it isn't:
Bradford County’s director of public safety said a Chesapeake well went out of control late Tuesday night. That means the well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.

DEP is taking ground water and stream samples to determine the extent of the spill.

Officials said fluids from the well have, in fact, contaminated Towanda Creek which feeds into the Susquehanna River.
Somehow I feel certain it won't be the extractors who pay for the clean-up. It will be the taxpayers and all the surrounding landowners who end up living on toxic waste dumps will never be made whole.

Can't help but think if we had invested as much time and effort into developing clean energy as we have in developing ever more sophisticated weapons and other military hardware, we wouldn't be using these foul fossil fuels at all anymore. [graphic via]

[More posts daily at the Detroit News.]

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