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Recently, CNX published a blog post called “Nine Irrefutable Energy Truths and a Critical Call to Action.” Reading the post then—which I highly suggest you do—my first reaction was to laugh. Was this a gag? It was so obviously absurd, it was hard to take it seriously at first. But, as I compose my response to the version adapted for Pennlive’s Opinion section just last week, the post no longer feels so funny.
As outlandish as it is, Nick DeIuliis’ opinion piece is a tiny part of a larger, highly sophisticated disinformation campaign that has infiltrated Pennsylvania’s everyday reality. While DeIuliis seems to be grasping at straws, the not so funny truth is that these flaccid arguments are starting to gain traction with a public increasingly mistrustful of science. That’s why we’re debunking these eight irrefutable energy “truths” with some truths of our own. The main difference: Our truths reflect reality.
Irrefutable Truth #1: The Natural Gas Industry is Floundering
As logic would tell you, price stress, oversupply, industry bankruptcy, and cancelled pipelines are indeed a sign of failure, despite CNX’s bold claims otherwise. To make this claim, author and CNX Director and Chief Executive Officer Nick DeIuliis tells his readers that the good times are coming, comparing the rough start of the fracked gas industry to the early struggles of the information technology sector. Yet as the oil and gas sector flounders, information technology has continued to be the S&P’s best performing sector in the last decade. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that S&P Energy—made up of exclusively oil and gas companies—comes dead last.
This is what failure looks like.
Irrefutable Truth #2: The Era of Fossil Fuel Dominance is Ending
Our society has run on fossil fuels for centuries, shifting from one technology to the next as we innovate and discover new pathways forward: From coal to oil and gas. Yet while fossil fuels have brought us a long way, their exploitation has come at a cost.
Fracked gas is no exception. Projected global warming emissions from natural gas are on par with an energy mix dominated by coal, especially when we consider factors like methane leaks (a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide), increased energy demand over time, and the slow decline of carbon-neutral nuclear power. Worse still, fracked gas and associated petrochemical facilities threaten public health with contaminated water, premature births, and unexplained cancers. Communities of color and low-income communities are especially impacted.
Luckily, we now have the technology to continue the progress of centuries prior while improving outcomes for public health, the environment, and justice. As we have done in the past, we will continue to innovate and move forward, to embrace life- and earth-preserving energy conservation and generation like solar and wind. Renewable energy is already forecasted to surpass coal in electricity generation by this year’s end and will continue its path forward over the coming decades.
Irrefutable Truth #3: Renewables are Winning
One challenge for the renewable energy transition is that our existing policies and infrastructure are built to serve the energy systems of the past. This legacy—of fossil fuel subsidies, of preference for large-scale over community energy generation, and of fossil fuel influence in politics—slows down the transition to renewables, but it cannot stop it. Renewable energy is growing faster than any other energy source in the U.S. Part of the reason is that it's cheap: Just check out the Forbes article titled “Renewable Energy Is Now The Cheapest Option - Even Without Subsidies.”
Despite this spectacular growth in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition in the U.S., however, supportive policy is still needed. The necessity to shift to renewable energy is more than economical—it is a moral obligation. The subsidies propping up the flailing fossil fuel industry must be eliminated and replaced with subsidies that help us address the climate crisis, improve public health, and support home-grown jobs.
And, if you’re curious about the greenhouse gas emissions of renewable energy from mining all the way to operation, be sure to read this. Here’s a preview: Despite Nick DeIuliis’ claim, many honest analyses have been performed, and renewables outperform natural gas every time.
Irrefutable Truth #4: A Zero-Carbon Future is Coming
According to an article from the Financial Times, “a zero-carbon future is both feasible and affordable.” While this may be difficult to imagine—even the production of renewable energy sources emit greenhouse gases from mining and transportation of materials—this future relies heavily on “boosting the role of electricity.” In this not so faraway future, mining equipment and vehicles for transportation will run on electricity powered by renewable energy.
One reason that CNX might want to sow doubt about this prospect is that reducing industry emissions—67 percent of which come from natural gas, petroleum, chemicals, and plastics industries—will be absolutely critical. When Nick DeIuliis says that “outrage should be directed at academia,” what he really means is that undermining science is one of the few options fossil fuel industries have left.
Irrefutable Truth #5: Petrochemicals are the Final Frontier for Fossil Fuel Survival
The oil and gas industry is trying to leverage the pandemic to reaffirm its role in a world eager to move on, claiming over and over that “plastic saves lives”—from surgical gloves and face masks to ventilators. But what the industry isn’t telling you is that 59 percent of polyethylene (the type of plastic that the Shell Petrochemical Plant in Beaver County would produce) is actually used to create packaging like food and beverage containers. As prices for oil and gas plummet and alternatives like solar and wind become more competitive, fossil fuel executives are staking their bet on petrochemicals. But as the attractiveness of this industry grows, more companies are jumping on the bandwagon and creating a massive plastics oversupply. Their success, then, relies on you thinking that plastics—and a whole lot more of them—are essential.
Irrefutable Truth #6: Commitment to Fossil Fuels Threatens Our Geopolitical Power
Fossil fuels like natural gas exacerbate climate change and threaten environmental health domestically—but the impacts don’t stop there. Our undying commitment to fossil fuels is embarrassing us on an international scale. When the United States decided to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, we not only relinquished our role as a global leader on climate change, but we undermined our reputation broadly.
If you need further evidence, look no further than the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Science denialism—which fuels our failed response to the climate crisis—is now hampering our response to another issue of international importance: coronavirus. Unless we start taking science seriously and responding to these crises with the urgency they demand, our reputation as a global leader will continue to falter.
Irrefutable Truth #7: A Diversified Economy Sustains the Middle Class
Extractive industries have left Pennsylvanian’s stranded without jobs time and time again. They set up monopolistic economies reliant upon their success. When profits dry up, companies abandon ship, leaving communities to clean up the health, environmental, and economic mess left in their wake.
This is no way to structure an economy. We need the long-term, life-sustaining jobs of the future, not the dirty jobs of our past. Increasingly, these jobs can be found in industries like energy efficiency, renewable energy, and nature-based small businesses. In fact, despite the fracked gas boom of the past decade, clean energy jobs actually employ twice as many people as the fossil fuel industry in Pennsylvania. The majority of these jobs are in construction and manufacturing.
Irrefutable Truth #8: We Need Your Voice to Combat Industry Mistruths
Nick DeIuliis’ mistruths reek of an industry desperate to stay afloat. It is clear that fossil fuel interests will stop at nothing to ensure their legacy of extracting profits continues for as long as possible, despite the consequences for public health, global warming, and environmental protection. Much of that fight is political. It takes place in our newspapers, our schools, and our capitol.
Just weeks ago, legislators passed a bill which provides $667 million dollars of tax breaks to the petrochemical and fertilizer industries over the next 25 years. Other legislation being considered includes enabling community solar, changing the definition of recycling to include harmful plastic incineration, and establishing more public health safeguards from fracked gas. These decisions will impact the immediate future, and their ramifications will be felt for generations to come.
Don’t let industry mistruths dominate the conversation—talk to you legislator today.
Regardless, as fracked gas companies flounder in the past, we will continue to innovate and move forward, to embrace life and earth-preserving energy conservation and generation like solar and wind. Our very future depends on it.