Carbon Capture and Sequestration, Energy, Environment, Featured, Moffat County, Uncategorized

Soychak: Fossil fuels still making our lives better

I want to thank the men and women who have been responsible for developing the COVID vaccine in record time, that will ultimately save millions of lives in this new year. This would not have been possible without fossil fuels.

Let us thank the countless energy workers who provide the fossil fuels to transport and keep these vaccines as cold as negative-90 degrees F. Seventy percent of the electricity in our state that will keep the vaccines at these low temperatures are generated by coal and natural gas. The plastic syringes that will be used to administer the vaccine are also brought to you by fossil fuels. Not to mention the masks, hand sanitizers and ventilators that are keeping people safe.

Prior to the COVID outbreak in February, Colorado Mesa University’s Landman Energy Management Club helped sponsor Alex Epstein, author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” to speak at CMU for two events that were attended by more than 700 people. The first event was recorded and can be viewed here on YouTube. I urge everyone to watch the video, said to be one of Mr. Epstein’s best presentations on the subject, especially when answering questions from CMU’s Sustainability Council. Please take the time to view the video and be informed on the importance fossil fuels play in our modern society.

Earlier this year, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) documented that 81% of the U.S. energy consumed in 2019 was produced by fossil fuels. The EIA has also projected fossil fuels will still be the dominant energy source in 30 years, providing 78% of our domestic energy needs. Intermittent wind/solar are projected to increase from 7% to 14% during the same time period.

The reason fossil fuels will still be the dominant energy source in the next 30 years is because everything that makes our life more comfortable and affordable are derived from them — machines, fertilizers, electricity, and many other materials.

As Epstein explains in his presentation, fossil fuels have prevented climate deaths by sheltering, transporting and protecting us from the elements of Mother Nature. We are a planet that has gone from 1 billion people 250 years ago to almost 8 billion today due to doubling of life expectancy. Modern industrialization driven by the fossil fuel industry has provided most of this. Even pharmaceuticals are primarily derived from fossil fuel petrochemicals that have extended all of our lives on Earth.

When President-elect Joe Biden was campaigning more than a year ago, he told a potential voter that he should thank the blue-collar electrical line worker for the job he or she does. We should do more than that. Let me explain. Electricity is a secondary energy source. The primary energy source that generates the majority of the electricity in the U.S. is produced from natural gas and coal. It is these blue-collar men and women who work in the field extracting these fuel sources who are responsible for producing the reliable and affordable source of energy that has made the United States the major economic power it is today. It has brought more people out of poverty than any other industry.

We have federal and state politicians racing to close down fossil fuel plants for supposed “clean green energy” mainly pushing large-scale solar and wind to mitigate the impacts of CO2. A University of Chicago study in April of 2019 showed that the 29 states that adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), primarily by increasing intermittent wind and solar, paid 17% higher electricity rates over a 12-year period than states that did not adopt an RPS.

This study also showed that although wind and large-scale solar did mitigate CO2 emissions, it was very costly at $130 to $460 per ton. This study included the costs associated with the intermittency of wind/solar and the additional transmission lines that have to be installed for this diffuse energy. When utilities boast about the low cost of wind/solar, they are not very transparent about including these underlying costs.

A recent study was done by one of our economics professors at CMU evaluating the impacts of shutting down northwest Colorado coal-fired power plants/mines. The impacts are huge — in that it could reduce the Moffat County GDP by 47% and would cost Coloradans thousands of jobs. How can we keep these important jobs in our state and yet mitigate the negative impacts of CO2?

Researchers at the University of Wyoming are working on Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) projects for Wyoming coal plants that can mitigate CO2 at $40 to $70 per ton. This is significantly less when compared to $130 to $460 per ton from wind/solar costs that the University of Chicago study showed. Why not look at this evolving CCS technology for existing coal and natural gas plants in Colorado if the economics can justify it versus the more costly wind/solar?

During my 36 years in the energy industry, I was involved with two CCS projects to market natural gas. The first was in southwestern Wyoming back in 1997, when we recovered 400 tons per day of CO2 from natural gas and sequestered it into the Entrada formation that was 11,000 feet below the surface. The second project was in the mid-2000s when I was managing an energy company in Parachute. We recovered approximately 20 tons per day of CO2 from natural gas processing plants and sold it to Solvay Chemicals for their sodium bicarbonate production (thereby solidifying the CO2). CCS was not a cheap process in those days, but researchers at University of Wyoming are now showing the technology is improving and becoming more affordable.

During the final presidential debate in October, Biden stated that he wanted to capture the emissions from fossil fuels to reduce carbon. If he is truly sincere, this could not only save thousands of coal and other fossil fuel jobs, but also create jobs in CCS. This would be a much better alternative than so-called “clean green energy,” which is less reliable and more expensive than many utilities want you to believe.

Steve Soychak is program director and on the faculty for the Energy Management/Landman program at Colorado Mesa University.

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