Public Enemies: Fossil Fuels [Op-Ed]

Thanks a lot, Brayton Point and Sandwich, for fouling our air and water

"Clean Coal" is a television fantasy

By Richard Bartlett

We who live on Cape Cod or the Islands know very well the harm that is done by the generation of electricity by burning fossil fuels. The same prevailing winds that will be harvested by Cape Wind are presently bringing us the unwanted gifts of acid rain, increased asthma and cardiac issues, mercury enough to make local fish unsafe to eat, the extinction of some species of birds and plants, and our lawns becoming unwanted moss gardens. The news almost every day reports extreme weather events; floods in some places, droughts in others, more frequent and violent tornadoes and hurricanes.

   Thanks a lot, Brayton Point and Sandwich, for fouling our air and water.

   For several years it has been impossible to watch TV without seeing slick ads for "Clean Coal."  They are advertising something that doesn't exist. It's a television fantasy without a counterpart in the real world. If they had spent their huge advertising budget on making their profitable product less toxic perhaps they would have developed an acceptable fuel by now. But they prefer the hoodwinking approach.

   The coal industry is now pushing for the government to pay for an experimental CCS project. Those letters stand for "Carbon Capture and Storage." Liquified CO2 is buried a mile deep. Citizens in Linden, NJ are bitterly opposed to having a proposed  experimental PurGen plant in their city. With good reason they worry about the risk of the sequestered carbon dioxide leaking upward into the air they breathe. Being invisible and having no odor, it is dangerous. And it hangs low to the ground, excluding healthy, breathable air.

   Those folks in Linden know about a rare natural event that happened in Cameroon in 1986. An underground deposit of carbon dioxide escaped into the air, forming "a low hanging puddle" of gas, causing 1,746 people to die in their sleep.

   Burning "natural" gas produces CO2, so that industry also lobbies for taxpayers to foot the bill for a CCS experimental project. The gas producers use "fracking" to mine the gas deposits trapped in rock formations. Citizens living near those freakin' fracking sites are upset because injected chemicals show up in their drinking water. Whole municipal water systems have been shut down. Anything for the bottom line.

   But what would it cost us, even if it worked?

   Burying just 1/8th of global CO2 emissions today would require an infrastructure the size of the entire global petroleum industry. A CCS system uses so much energy that for every 4 plants to operate a 5th one is needed just to furnish the other 4 their power! PurGen plans to build 3,400 CCS burial projects between 2020 and 2050.

   A CCS system large enough to manage only 20% of global CO2 emissions in 2050 would have a price tag of $45 trillion (That's with a T!) yet the fossil fuel proponents keep telling us their energy is cheap. Just think how little it would cost to substitute truly clean renewable energy by comparison.

   A related issue, nuclear power generation would take a whole letter of its own. The old plants are dangerous, and after all these years the waste disposal problem is unsolved. Around our area we are indebted to Mary Lampert and her Pilgrim Watch group and Paul Rifkin and the Occupiers for battling Entergy's relicensing application and challenging the NRC.
   Richard C. Bartlett
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