Monday, December 7, 2015

Climate Conundrum

One scientist says the earth is heating up and another says it is cooling off. Ten, a hundred, the numbers in each camp are not important. One camp says man is causing global climate change and another says he is not capable of doing it. Within the camp saying man is not responsible is the camp saying the planet is not becoming warmer any more so than normal cyclic variations. Opinions range widely whether the alleged changes are imminent or long term. Much like the philosophical question of the glass being half empty or half full, many clever answers have been recently proposed.

We can argue and debate and call names over which climate model is more accurate and whether all of the causes have been identified and quantified, but we cannot deny the ancillary damage caused by the mining and use of any of the fossil fuels we use today.

One proponent of fossil fuels charges that a climate hoax is being perpetrated in order to deny developing nations their ability and rights to develop. He further alleges a second motive is to be able to obtain financial academic grants from anti-carbon governments who will only fund research compatible with their own agenda.

In the end, the issue is not so much one of fossil fuel usage in general but one of its extreme overuse. Just look at Beijing, China to see what happens when too much coal is burned in a given region. It is possible that Mt. Etna is belching more carbon into the air than are the Chinese in Beijing, but the coal smoke is chocking the citizens of the city. Indonesian wildfires have the neighboring Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur socked in with smoke.  Indonesia had for weeks failed to put out the annual fires from slash-and-burn farming that shrouds their neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore. Granted that trees and surface brush is not exactly a fossil fuel, it does contribute to environmental degradation without adding significantly to overall atmospheric carbon.


The City of Pittsburgh, PA, USA was once nicknamed "the Smoky City" for its midnight-at-noon lighting due to the coal fired steel industry in the 1945. The Environmental Protection Agency took measures to clean up the industry and the city. On October 31, 1948 a temperature inversion trapped industrial smog in the riverside town of Donora situated a few miles south of Pittsburgh. Seventy people died in a matter of days. Hundreds more suffered long term heart and lung damage.

Digging coal out of the ground via shaft mining has left millions of coal miners globally with massive lung damage from breathing the coal dust. Thousands of miners have died in tunnel collapses. While the miners and their families did need the paychecks, it has always been the mine owners who reaped the profits from the consumption of human labor. It the USA the need for coal in essentially limited to electricity production and a few smelting mills that remain. Elsewhere in the world, ordinary people want to continue to burn coal for cooking and dwelling heat.

Massive industrial scale strip mining of coal is big business. Far fewer miners are needed and the mine owners get a larger profit on their investments. Neighboring indigenous people must tolerate the dust, noise and truck and rail traffic in and around their neighborhoods so that someone might be able to have electricity which could have been produced without the collateral environmental damage.

The argument that people in developing countries need grid-based electricity generated by a utility company is a fiction, since most of them cannot afford the price, the distribution lines won't reach their remote areas either. They are far better served by a small local source of electricity.

Coal is by no means clean. High grade anthracite might burn better and with higher BTU output but coal still contains heavy toxic metals and Sulphur. The metals remain in the resulting ash while the Sulphur is burned off in the exhaust and chemically reacts with sunlight and water to produce Sulphuric acid, aka acid rain. The ash that remains may be a smaller volume than the original coal, but it still needs to be "properly" disposed of.

Most coal ash is washed into containment ponds by water transport from the furnaces and held there until a bigger pond is needed. Many times the pond is use right up until "nature" causes it to fail and the ash is conveniently transferred to the river or lake adjacent to the power plant.

Ironically, the carbon in the coal may only be a minor player in the overall environmental degradation.

Natural Gas

Recently there has been significant improvements in a speculator's ability to coax natural gas out of the ground. Hydraulic fracturing that was invented by Floyd Farris and refined by J.B. Clark has been used since 1947 with varying success. Contemporary Fracturing processes have employed large quantities of industrial chemicals and sand to accomplish the propping open of the fracture zones in the deep rock strata.

While industry representative assure the public that hydraulic fracturing is safe when properly performed, the operative work there is "properly."  First, there is never just one drill bore. There must be dozens of them. Two, every producing well need to be connected by a pipe to a central processing site where the gas is compressed and delivered into a transmission pipe.

In the US most of those pipes are buried in order to be less controversial. In developing lands, there is no moral imperative to preserve the landscape or the functionality of the land on which ordinary people need to live.

Well bores are lined with casings to conduct the gas to the surface. While these casing may be intact when placed, there is nothing to assure they will remain so. Tens of thousands of capped wells and other non-production wells leak methane into the air every day. While the quantity of greenhouse gas leaking into the air and its impacts on global climate may be disputed, what cannot be disputed is the damage to human, and livestock health the odorless, colorless and tasteless methane does.

When multi-million dollar speculators get their way and drill, frack and pipe the gas everyone around them must pay the price with their health and lower property values. 

When a driller pumps toxic materials suspended in water at 18000 PSI deep into the earth, the pressure will vent somewhere. Many times it vents into aquifers and other groundwater locations where people have wells to get the water. They are poisoned by the fracking fluids.

Seismic Consequences

The hydraulic fracturing process is one where extreme pressure is applied to the well bore to open cracks in the rock strata. By definition that is a miniature earthquake. While we may not feel it, it is still there. Once the rock movements reach about 2.3 on the Richter scale, human can feel the quakes. Thousands of small earthquakes have been registered in the fracking fields of Oklahoma and northern Texas. There is a connection. There will be a bigger quake one day. It will cause largescale damage in the area which has not ever had earthquakes before and the buildings are not resistant.


If the process of drilling for and pumping crude oil out of the ground or from deep water bores was clean and efficient there would be little to say about the impacts on the people and the land around the wells. Everywhere there is drilling for oil there is an environmental disaster.

Texaco created environmental damage of monumental proportions in Ecuador. Chevron took over the operations and now is being saddled with an $8 billion law suit.  The oil companies did just as they pleased to get the oil and disregard all the people who lived nearby and on the land.

Royal Dutch Shell has polluted the Niger Delta with spills and industrial grade landscape degradation. Large swaths of land and waterways are completely choked with spilled crude. Dozens of pipelines crisscross the land and villages with zero benefit accruing to the people who live there.

British Petroleum had the world's greatest oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico when the blowout preventer itself blew out and leaked uncounted barrels of crude into the Gulf. Such events may be creating far greater consequences than the carbon in the fuel.


There are hundreds of thousands of miles of gas and oil transmission line in the USA alone. There are daily bursts and leaks that pollute the earth in ways that cannot be corrected by man. Nature will have to be the agent to clean it up over time.

We move oil by train car tankers too. They have a dubious safety record like the pipeline system.

When All Is Said And Done 

There are far more deleterious impact of the fossil fuel production and use than just carbon-dioxide it the air. When you add together all the negatives you get a paradigm of energy usage that is both too expensive and too dangerous to our long term enjoyment of this planet we call home.

Tuna! is a metaphor for the buying and selling of everything without regard for the consequences. 

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Author's Note: The book cover images in the side margins of this blog are my own publications of eBooks available at both Amazon and B&N. Please take a moment and go to the sites and read about them. Then if you like it, buy one or two.