Oil addiction will be our demise – is 'green' tech green (pt 4/4)
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Over the years there have been hundreds of studies, documentaries and articles put out warning of the train wreck we’re on. We have had decades to come up with alternatives to oil. Options that are cleaner, safer, cheaper and less politically volatile could be out there waiting to be discovered or invented, if only we had the will. There aren’t any true clean sustainable alternatives, they all have a negative impact in some form. We have wasted precious time lying to ourselves about the dangers of oil, the amount of years we have to use it, then went about insuring it permeated through every aspect of our lives.
Many of the so called alternatives are either more a waste of natural resources or never designed to be the end but rather the beginning of rethinking energy. Any genuine alternative would have to be able to replace oil in as many uses and products as possible, while not wasting more water than oil refining or releasing toxins.
It seems inconceivable that a species at the top of the food chain would be so reckless on such a grand scale. You would expect a species further down the food chain to not plan ahead. It’s like we are all on a suicide mission we didn’t sign up for but have been forced into by a few.
Some things can be made without oil, like clothes and other textile products. Natural fibers like cotton and linen used to be made into a variety of products. Now many clothes are either polyester or a poly/cotton blend. We survived centuries with natural fibers and should go back to that. Auto parts were always made of steel until plastic replaced that. The steel parts were better made and lasted longer so the plastic in vehicles could and should be replaced. Homes used to be made of brick, wood and stone. Why are we buying prefab homes made of plastic or plywood doused in formaldehyde?
If the bulk of alternatives still needs some oil or coal to work or has greater water usage or greater contamination that is not a genuine alternative. Many of the so called ‘green’ sources are as bad or worse than oil when you honestly look at them from cradle to grave. The public is not told of the entire process and therefore does not get an honest assessment of the cost of these sources.
Zero emissions may be great at cutting green house gases released but if we use up all the water in the processing of these alternatives, we won’t be around long enough to enjoy cleaner air. If the alternatives remove what little topsoil we still have as we mine the planet, we could create another dustbowl crisis like we had in the 1930s. Many of these alternatives use toxic chemicals which contaminate the water and air.
As you read through them ask yourself how sustainable, safe and healthy are they? Is this really the best we can come up with or is it the result of last minute scrambling after ignoring the problem for decades? Before supporting or dismissing any idea do your own research. Most of what you’ll find will never be reported on the news and could show how something is either worse than reported, or not as bad.
Another thing to remember is that the oil, coal, gas and nuclear industries are worth billions and will do anything to maintain their monopoly. They have shell companies who do much of their bidding. They fund ‘studies’ by professors and scientists they give grants to, they donate to universities and often build in communities who need a new hospital/school/library. All this donated money comes with a price. Those on the receiving end will inflate negative impacts of alternate energy sources and embellish their own industries safety.
Studies will never say ‘paid for by the coal company’, but a dive into who paid for the grants of the authors will usually circle back to the big energy companies. The public thinks most studies are done independently and that isn’t true. Industry giants are behind most of it pulling the strings casting doubt on competition. Wind and solar are prime examples. Yes they cause some harm, which pales in comparison to oil, coal and gas. It pays to look at all issues, authors, studies and funding.
When this was first proposed there were some that felt this wasn’t about conservation but instead a CON on American taxpayers. Corn is heavily subsidized by the government so why wouldn’t a by-product be too. Not many things suck up more water than the processing of ethanol. This ‘green’ option is anything but green it’s a bigger hog of water than conventional oil drilling.
To make 1 gallon of gasoline it takes 1.5 gallons of water but to make 1 gallon of ethanol it take 3 gallons of water. You don’t need to be a mathematician to see how this does not add up to conservation. Conserving water is equally important to preventing more spills. The amount of water used for everything else in our lives does not allow for such an increase. With the droughts and heat waves increasing we will need more water just to maintain our current way of life.
Water is not something we can produce and unlike oil there will never be a substitute for it, so we must conserve what we have where we can. Let’s not forget all the water the corn will need to grow and flourish before it’s processed. For this reason alone ethanol should not be used.
Pros – zero emissions, domestic
Cons – huge water usage, possible pesticides used on corn polluting air/soil, pollution of water, lower fuel economy than gasoline, emissions from shipping trucks carrying the ethanol
Electric cars – lithium battery
Mining for lithium is extremely destructive to the earth and creates huge areas of contamination. How is that any different than drilling or fracking? Decreased or zero emissions are not the only benchmark to meet. Mining for lithium is not new. Demand has steadily increased since the 1990s with the wave of technology that needed it. Now with the rush for greener sources of energy long term studies on soil and water contamination, air pollution and worker exposure have been cast aside in the name of progress. Lithium is called ‘white gold’ and crude oil is referred to as ‘black gold’ and both forever destroy the planet when mined.
Like ethanol the processing of lithium uses water. The impact the mining pits have on the land can leave one speechless. If the surrounding areas are able to regenerate it would take at least several generations so we would never know for sure if that was even possible. Now that we have flooded the markets with lithium craving technology we would either have to find a cleaner source to power them or reinvent them without needing lithium. In a rush to advance technology and speed up production did anyone think to ask what the consequences would be?
Open cast mining for Lithium in China
In February 2022 the Nevada Dept of Environmental Protection issued the mining company, Lithium America, permits to start mining at Thacker Pass. In order to get to the deposits which sit inside an extinct super volcano, the McDermitt Caldera, workers will blow up the mountain top. The project is more worrisome because of all the water it will take in a desert state. Contamination could last forever. How the blasting will affect the ‘extinct’ volcano no one can say for sure.
Ranchers and environmentalists joined the local Paiute-Shoshone tribes in protest but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had already signed off on the project in 2021 so waiting for the Nevada DEP was just for show. The BLM has a long history of approving the most horrendous projects.
July 2, 2022 - sign against the lithium clay mining, one of the largest in the world, by the side of the road to the project in Humboldt County, Nevada, US. Photo: Xinhua
How does this qualify as ‘greener’ than what we already have? It doesn’t it’s a lie to make the government look like they’re doing something and to bow to pressure by a public who is clueless about what they support. If we can’t replace lithium use in batteries at least we should not make it worse by adding to the problem with lithium batteries in cars. Actually we can replace traditional watch batteries with solar batteries.
Pros – zero emissions in cars, domestic (but the caveat is might have to import from China or other countries to fill growing need)
Cons – huge water usage, forever destroys the land from mining, land/water pollution (absorbed into the air), emissions from shipping trucks carrying the lithium
Reactors are notorious for leaking. When they blow they create permanent dead zones, think Fukushima and Chernobyl. This is no bargain for the workers either as little has changed regarding safety measures. If you haven’t seen the movies ‘Silkwood’ based on a true story of a whistleblower and ‘The China Syndrome’ you might want to watch them. Touted as a ‘greener’, safer alternative to coal and oil it is not. While nuclear plants don’t have the same emissions as a coal fired plant they are equally or a greater risk for contamination.
Before we have the nuclear power we have uranium mining and like all mining the price is steep. There are several methods of extraction. One is the ‘in place’ leaching process of pumping chemicals into groundwater to dissolve uranium in porous rocks. The other is milling where the ore containing uranium is removed from the Earth through open pit or underground mining then crushed at a mill where chemicals are added to dissolves the uranium
The chemicals used for mining are sulfuric acid and sodium carbonate. According to the Center for Disease Control ‘sulfuric acid is a corrosive substance, destructive to the skin, eyes, teeth, and lungs. Severe exposure can result in death.’ During the mining process the Environmental Protection Agency states ‘When uranium is located in an area saturated by groundwater, then in situ (in place) leaching may be used instead of conventional mining. After the chemicals are put into the ground, the liquid containing uranium is pumped to the surface through wells and then processed to recover the uranium.’
The lasting health and environmental damage is too great a risk and this does not truly qualify as a safer alternative to oil. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service has been around for years and a good source of information the news rarely puts out. https://www.nirs.org/
A warning sign on forest access road near a uranium mining area in Mesa County, Colorado
Pros – zero carbon emissions, claims to be cheaper than other sources, domestic
Cons – forever contamination of water/land from Uranium mining, radioactive waste in water/land (absorbed into the air), potential explosion, taken over by terrorists, non renewable
The most notable thing about wind power is the giant turbines. On large scale wind farms the sight of these massive machines can be less than beautiful. The noise generated can be a lot for those living nearby. One of the worst things about this source is the sharp blades spinning fast interacting with flying birds. For those against wind power they point to bird and bat mortality which is hard to accurately say but ranges in the 1 million a year.
According to a Sierra Club report the greatest threat to birds are outdoor cats which kill between 1 - 2 billion a year. Most of this can be prevented by placing a bell on the cat’s collar. Pesticides are the other massive killer of birds, and the animals that feed on them. All that spraying could be reduced down to a fraction since most of that poison is not needed.
In comparison, wind power is a much better alternative than oil, gas, coal and nuclear which destroy the entire habitat and food supply. It’s not perfect or without some problems but it’s not the bird killer the misinformation people would have the public believe. This is a prime example of the need for honest data so everyone can make an informed decision. Misinformation serves the few not the many.
Pros – no emissions, renewable, domestic, less area of land used
Cons – noise, danger to birds, depends on weather, limited geographically
This is often combined in conversations with oil but it comes with its own huge health and environmental hazards. Natural gas is odorless and colorless so if there is a leak it can be deadly without any warning. To extract it, hydraulic fracturing is used (aka fracking). If you haven’t researched the effects of fracking this documentary is a start “Gasland” part 1 free on YouTube
Halliburton is the company that invented fracking and the biggest provider, which uses massive amounts of water. The process involves drilling deep into the earth often more than a mile down, ‘cracks in and below the Earth's surface are opened and widened by injecting water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure.‘ Land and water pollution is the result. This is the same company that sold weapons to Iran (via their offshore subsidiary Kellogg Brown Root) despite it being illegal and against US law so they have zero ethics. They sold rural uneducated homeowners the dream of money if they allowed fracking for gas on their land. The people ended up sick with undrinkable water and unsaleableland.
The liquid is transported through pipelines. These pipelines are notorious for leaks and ‘cleanup’ rarely happens. According to a June 2022 article in Reuters ‘Over 2,600 hazardous gas pipeline leaks in the United States caused more than $4 billion in damages and emergency services, killed 122 people, and released 26.6 billion cubic feet of fuel as methane or carbon dioxide, according to a report released on Thursday.’ I can’t stress enough how against any form of fracking for any reason I am. Here are some links to peruse.
Gas pipeline in North Carolina photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association/ Flickr Creative Commons
Pros – it’s not oil or coal
Cons – long term/high exposure is deadly, leaks and explosions, forever contamination of water/land (absorbed into the air), unethical companies involved, non renewable, acid rain (same with coal plants), ozone depletion
Anyone standing on the beach knows the power of waves, especially during storms. What could be more ‘green’ than trying to harness nature’s power? This is a very new technology and no long term studies on efficiency and habitat damage exist. Like most energy sources this requires the building of a plant, this is more than just a few small devices floating on the water. The construction of a building will likely destroy marine habitat and marine life, at a time when most are already on the verge of collapse. For endangered Sea Turtles who nest on beaches, this could severely impact where and if they are able to nest.
The metal used could eventually corrode in acidic salt water which would mean they leach contamination into the ocean. Aside from nesting sea turtles these devices could alter the movement of fish. No one knows how this will affect nesting shorebirds who rely on tiny fish washing up on the beach to feed their chicks. More needs to be studied to see the effects though personally, the oceans have been damaged enough and anything that hinders the marine life is not something I could ever support.
Columbia Power's (C-Power) SeaRAY autonomous offshore power system
Illustration of wave energy power station in Portugal to be built. (Credit: EWPG Holding AB)
Pros – quiet, renewable, zero emissions, expected long lifespan, domestic
Cons – long term effects unknown, possibly unreliable in rough water, site specific, best on small scale, damage to marine ecosystem, harm to marine wildlife, pricey initial cost and installation, unsightly from the beach big negative impact to coastal tourism industry,
One of the cleanest ideas so far is using the sun as energy. Two of the biggest drawbacks would be its dependency on sunny days. As air pollution increases so does smog and hazy grey days. This would mean the panels might not provide as much energy as they could so air pollution could affect their efficiency. The manufacturing of the panels of course uses chemicals and therefore does add to the very problem we’re trying to fix. The counter to that is once the panels are in they don’t continue to add to pollution the way most of the other sources do.
Comparing solar to nuclear, lithium and ethanol the downside is dwarfed by the others massive use of water, chemicals or potential for explosions. Clearly nothing is perfect but solar seems to come closer to sustainable but still has some ways to go. Investing in a way to trap toxic gases produced while manufacturing in a non porous containment, like steel, before they were released into the air would make this the greenest of options. Whether money will be spent on that is more the question than whether it’s doable.
Other uses for solar are watches, which have been around for years. They are constantly recharging the solar battery and are said to be more accurate than traditional watch batteries. There is a wide variety of styles and prices. There are several solar powered products on the markets so you can check them out to see how well they work before going for the panels. This gives you an idea of what’s available
Pros - low emissions, panels are low maintenance, quiet, lower energy cost long term, in a sunny area endless supply of energy, long lifespan of panels, domestic
Cons – hard to remove after installation, weather dependent, doesn’t work at night, initial cost can be pricey
This uses the movement of water to generate energy and is one of the oldest sources for renewable energy. This involves building a dam and using the energy of water moving through a pipe to spin the blades in a turbine which spins a generator to create electricity. Compared to other sources this has less negative impact but it’s not without its problem. This relies on available reservoirs, which could be an issue as droughts become more frequent in the future.
It does have an impact on the marine life, though compared to oil and coal spills this still looks to be a safer option. Hydropower has been around in some form since the Romans so its history speaks to a lesser impact than say blowing up mountains for coal and lithium. It’s here to stay so we should find a way to improve on this instead of wasting money and time trying to produce ‘clean’ coal, which can’t be done.
Schnabel’s Red Rock Hydroelectric plant
Pros – renewable, cheap source of energy, been around for centuries, domestic
Cons – lack of reservoirs, dams can alter the ecosystem and marine life, turbines can kill fish in the river (possibly mitigated with use of fish ladders)
In layman’s terms it means capturing the heat the earth generates. What could be greener than that? Looking as a comparison to oil, coal, ethanol and nuclear it appears to be a better option. It’s not without a downside. The heat naturally occurring from earth is clean but there can be problem with the energy source needed for the pumps needed to capture the heat. The initial cost of pumps for a homeowner can run from $10k and higher.
This isn’t a practical solution on a large scale. The biggest downside is the use of hydraulic fracking when building the plant, and has been known to cause earthquakes. Ironically this is in use in California which generates the most electricity from geothermal energy, they also have earthquakes. Other western states and Hawaii use this method. Here are some things to consider before supporting it.
Eagle Rock is one of Calpine’s geothermal power plants operating at The Geysers in Northern California. Photo credit Calpine
Pros – zero emissions, no fuel needed for transport, smaller land footprint than mining areas, domestic
Cons - high water usage, possible earthquakes, energy needed for pumps used to capture heat, pricey startup cost, need very high temps for the geothermal process, the plant emits carbon dioxide
Oil eating bacteria
At first glance this seems like a perfect solution, if the only option is to clean up the oil after a spill. The daily rate of oil spilling somewhere in the world means that while this could help, it won’t be able to remove all the oil already embedded into the soil and water and clean up any new spills. The point of finding alternatives is to find a clean safe source that doesn’t spill. This is more like part 2 of an old movie we have seen many times and know the ending by heart. While we should be employing every viable option to rid the planet of oil residue this won’t do anything to get us off our oil addiction.
Pros – helps to remove oil
Cons – after the fact when the point is to not use a source that spills
To the moon and back
Europe hopes to get off Russian oil after they invaded Ukraine. There is constant turmoil and violence in the Middle East. We have our own problems with oil and gas prices. Why are we going to waste more oil going back to the moon? We hope to find oil there, or something we can use for energy. We will spend tens of thousands of gallons of kerosene (crude oil by-product) just to get to the moon. In fact every time we send up a rocket we use fuel that could have been used here on earth,
According to trade magazine Journal of Petroleum Technology the agency NASA has stated ‘We’re going to the Moon, and we’re going there to stay this time’. One can’t help wonder if we even have the ability to see the error of our ways. We spent billions on Rover trying to find water on Mars. Are people really thinking of the Moon and Mars as Planet B?
It does seem like our addiction to oil and the willful desire to do whatever whenever to whomever to get it will be our demise. Even the ‘greener’ sources leave much to be desired. Perhaps it’s less about getting off oil completely and more about choosing the lesser evil, a sad commentary of how we dug ourselves into this hole in the first place.
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Also published on The Good Men Project on November 21, 2022