Friday, July 11, 2008

Energy Genesis

Salud, Salut, Gesund—As Long As You’re Healthy
by Mort Malkin

Energy Genesis

The US of A can boast a wide and varied natural environment — physical resources aplenty and landscapes to take your breath away. The list of riches is extensive: mountain ranges, the Great Plains, shorelines along two oceans, a chain of Great Lakes, several world-class rivers, and unique settlements such as Hollywood (CA), Brooklyn (NY), and Milanville (PA). Go ahead and laugh. Milanville is listed in Hammond's World Atlas with a population of 120. In the next edition it may also be noted as the home of the Milanville Poets, Unlimited.

Americans have been blessed with many energy resources. Of course they were meant for us to use so we could “be fruitful and replenish the earth,” and of course in the comfort of homes kept at 73° F, regardless of the outside temperature. We need not look far for the power that keeps our lives so pleasant. The sun shines every cloudless day. San Diego claims eight days of sun every week. The waves of the sea rise and fall day and night, and the tides flow and ebb 24/7. The earth turns and prevailing winds blow, even in between hurricane seasons. During every political campaign, candidates for elected office are a dependable source of warmed over air. The above wellsprings of energy are renewable and clean (nasty campaign tactics excepted).

We have also been blessed with accessible fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — but they are a little trickier as they come laced with malevolent chemicals. Burning them in one way or another releases nitrogen & sulfur oxides and carbon dioxide, prime movers in the global heating process. Then, there are volatile polycyclic hydrocarbons, toxic in their own right but also leading to increased concentrations of ground-level ozone and consequent respiratory pathology. A few simpler chemicals, right from the periodic table of elements, add a little diversity to the toxic stew: arsenic, mercury, radium and uranium for starters. On the other hand, oil has also been a boon for specialized plastics with wondrous properties — just juggle a few C, H, and O atoms. We should be saving such a valuable resource and using it only for such advanced materials, not for heat, electricity production, and gasoline combustion. Natural gas, too, may have value far beyond heating homes. One educated guess for future hi-tech natural gas use comes from one of the Milanville Poets: as a carrier for nano-film surface application for corrosion resistance, electrical conductivity, or waterproofing.

Then we come to where Osiris stores all the fossil fuels. The oil & gas deposits closer to the surface were easier and cheaper to mine and were taken first. Once they became scarce and prices went up, the CONG gang (coal, oil, nuclear, gas) went after the deeper and less accessible stores. It was damn the environment, safety standards, and quaint & outmoded ideas of morality — full speed ahead. Around the world, oil drilling went off shore into the storm-tossed North Sea and the hurricane-plagued Gulf of Mexico. Gas exploration found mile-deep small pockets and crevices of natural gas at many places in the US, from Texas to the Colorado Rockies to the North Platte Valley in Wyoming to the watershed of the High Delaware River. Halliburton, ever inventive for nefarious purposes, devised a high pressure hydraulic system for fracturing the rock strata so the gas could be collected from a wider area around the drill site. It takes some doing — a million gallons of water laced with various lubricants, corrosion inhibitors, biocides and other fun chemicals. The direction and extent of the fractures is, at best, educated guesswork, but not far away is the rock that holds the water table. These risk-ridden ventures attracted arrogant, risk-taking energy men who were not much bothered by accidents or aquifer contamination.

A few truly conservative theologians became environmental advocates. They called upon their followers to “weave the mission of care for God’s creation.” Some have opined that these less accessible energy deposits were meant to be kept in reserve, to be called on only in the event of dire planetary emergency. The Milanville Poets caucused and agreed that $4 per gallon gasoline does not meet the standard of “dire emergency.”

The last genesis question concerns sacred sites. Some places on earth are too beautiful, too ecologically fragile, too historically significant to despoil forever for the sake of a few months worth of BTUs. We should not be drilling next to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, not the Everglades of Florida, not under the water tables of the High (Upper) Delaware River, not even in the Rose Garden of the White House (no matter who lives there at the moment). If drill they must, there’s a nice 1500 acre ranch in Crawford TX.

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