An engineer’s perspective on fossil fuels
For over two years I have been writing this column as a representative of the Shale Crescent USA organization. Today I write it as an individual and a registered professional engineer.
Talking to people across the country I try to help people, particularly outside of our region, understand energy. Many Americans don’t understand the important role petrochemicals play in their lives. It is difficult to go even an hour without touching some item made from petrochemicals, like your cell phone. Electric cars are built with petrochemicals from oil and natural gas wells that have all been hydraulically fractured or “fracked.” Almost all natural gas is “fracked” gas, unless it comes from our bodies or cows. Americans are smart people. Here are some simple truths to help improve the understanding of energy and petrochemicals.
While we were in Dillon, Colorado, for our family ski trip I did a radio interview for a Denver station. Because of my experience I have the opportunity to tell people about our abundant natural gas and what it means to them. The interview topic was about American troops now protecting us with American energy. We don’t need to depend on foreign oil to fuel our military. Many Americans don’t know our military runs on petroleum for fuel and petrochemicals to produce weapons, communication systems and even uniforms.
The first question from the show host was, “Mr. Kozera, our new governor has a goal to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in Colorado in 10 years. What does that mean to you?”
I responded, “It means that my family is going to need to find another place to ski because Colorado won’t have a skiing industry.”
Our skis, coats, helmets and gloves are made from fossil fuels. We got to Colorado on a jet built with petrochemicals from oil and gas wells. The plane is fueled by petroleum, not wind or solar power. No planes and no ski equipment means no customers and no ski industry.
If they do let planes fly to Colorado, we still can’t get to the mountains unless we go on horseback or steam locomotive. Electric cars and electric trains are products of petrochemicals (fossil fuels) to make them lightweight and reduce power needs. Modern windmills and solar panels the governor plans to use to produce electricity require petrochemicals in their construction and transportation. Ski lifts need dependable electricity.
There is nothing wrong with renewables. We can use them where it makes sense. The problem comes when someone in a leadership position says it is all we are going to use. As a professional engineer, I know that is unrealistic. Renewables produce one thing, electricity, and they don’t do that very efficiently. The renewable electricity the Colorado governor is planning to power his state will need dependable backup when the sun isn’t shining (like at night) and the wind isn’t blowing. Natural gas is the most dependable backup power source because it can be brought online quickly. Batteries don’t have sufficient storage to be a dependable backup. Batteries also require petrochemicals in their manufacture.
It is important for all Americans to understand the importance of fossil fuels. They are used for much more than transportation. This isn’t about politics or personal opinion, it is about basic engineering and common sense. The “Green New Deal” in Congress is calling for zero-carbon power in 10 years. In addition to Colorado, states including California, some New England states and even Virginia are proposing similar measures and have no idea how unsustainable this is. We already know what this means for average Americans — Californians are paying 25 cents per kwh for electricity. We pay 11 cents. Under the California plan, my monthly electricity cost would be over $600 a month! Californians are already experiencing brownouts, putting people like my wife’s lives at risk.
New England has had to bring in liquid natural gas from Russia at over $100 per MCF during cold weather because they don’t want pipelines to bring in natural gas from our region. This “fracked gas” is produced under Russian environmental laws. Not exactly “green.” Europe banned hydraulic fracturing a few years ago. The environmentalist antis were able to scare people into supporting a ban and use renewables, like they tried to do here. The result is two 48-inch pipelines bringing in natural gas from Russia at Russia’s high prices. The global environment suffers and Russia profits. Could the profits buy weapons to use against Europe?
We are blessed to have abundant and affordable natural gas right under our feet that has reduced our energy costs and is bringing industry and high-wage jobs back to our region. Our natural gas is being shipped to places like India, where it is reducing air pollution and saving children’s lives. Manufacturing plants built here will be the cleanest and most efficient in the world. An additional 2 billion more people are expected on Earth by 2050. The middle class is growing in developing countries and places like China and India, increasing global demand for consumer goods from petrochemicals. Manufacturing plants will be built. Isn’t it better to have them built here under U.S. environmental laws, providing American jobs, rather than under China’s environmental laws and providing Chinese jobs?
All Americans need to understand that oil and gas are far more than fuel for transportation or electric power. They are the feed stock for petrochemicals making modern life, modern health care and even modern renewables possible. If we know and understand the truth and some basic math and science, we can make good decisions to keep those in power from destroying our economy, our freedom and the lives of future generations.
Our future isn’t behind us. It is ahead of us. We can make it a bright future by what we do each day.
Greg Kozera firstname.lastname@example.org is a professional engineer who has over 40 years of experience in the energy industry. He has a master’s in environmental engineering and is the author of four books and numerous published articles.