Sort by

Are We Losing the Battle Against Extreme Forms of Energy?

J. Mijin Cha

Last week, TransCanada began construction on the southern section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Despite serious concerns about the environmental impact of the pipeline, the Obama Administration backed building the southern portion earlier this year. It’s not hard to see how this is just the first step to building the entire pipeline. And, as my colleague Anna Pycior detailed yesterday, New York State will allow fracking in certain areas of the state, even though limited fracking still results in substantial environmental and economic damage. At the same time, renewable energy continues to struggle to receive federal support.

Are we losing the battle against extreme forms of energy?

Fracking and tar sands are extreme forms of energy because of the time, expense and destruction they need to extract these resources. The oil and gas reserves that were relatively easy to extract are now mostly depleted. Increasing energy prices makes the more expensive, and more destructive, extraction technologies now profitable. In the case of tar sands, it means that a process that extracts oil from a sandy mix reached only through massive surface-destroying open mines is now profitable, even though the extraction and refining process releases up to three times the emission as regular mining. In the case of fracking, it means approving a process that has proven to pollute water supplies, cause health problems in surrounding communities, and causes extreme events like earthquakes in non-earthquake prone areas and flammable tap water.

Looking at what we are willing to endure just to get cheap oil and gas really highlights the severity of our fossil fuel addiction. Is it really worth flammable tap water just to be able to use as much energy as you want?

America's overconsumption of energy has led us to this place. As I have written here often, if Americans consumed energy at the same rate as people in Europe, we would be a net energy exporter. In order to drive inefficient cars, live in massive houses, and run air conditioning to frigid temperatures, we accept the environmental and economic destruction of communities.

Of course, there are energy sources that are not nearly as destructive and will provide energy continually going forward because they are renewable. Renewable energy production continues to outperform expectations, even though the industry receives just a fraction of government support that fossil fuels do. Meaningful investment in renewable energy creates jobs, helps stave off the worst impacts of climate change, and does not pollute water supplies. And, because the sources are renewable, we don’t have to continually search for new, extreme sources.

In the case of upstate New York, these communities will bear the cost of fracking for a six-year supply of natural gas. Six years. So, we expose people to all the risks of fracking for a six-year supply of gas instead of using those resources to invest in the real energy of the future- renewables. How does this make sense?