I am not a fear monger. I enjoy the fruits of human civilization and celebrate the accomplishments of engineers, designers, architects, manufacturers and builders. I recognize that consuming energy at a high rate is the very definition of “power” and that power is the ability to do work.
However, I also love the natural world and want humans to recognize its value and the importance of walking softly, leaving as little of a damaging trace as possible on places where we do not purposely erect structures. It is with a heavy heart that I find myself checking all too frequently for news reports of the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher that continues unabated into its third week.
I understand that drilling for oil off of the coast is a routine and necessary part of the energy supply infrastructure. That is, after all, where a lot of the oil and gas resources that remain within the United States are located. What bothers me is that the current ongoing accident is being made more challenging because it occurred in a place that tells me we are stretching our technology to its very limits.
As I watch the news reports and read the accident details about Deepwater Horizon, I cannot help but think of the old John Wayne movie titled Hellfighters that tells the story of hardworking, economically successful, specialists in the hard job of fighting oil field fires and blowouts. I think about the scene where Wayne and his team are trying to stop a blowout in an unstable country; during their effort to install the valve to stem the flow, they have to dodge bullets. In the case of the current Gulf of Mexico gusher, there are no bullets to dodge, but instead the responders are faced with having to figure out how to manipulate equipment that is under 5,000 feet of water at a pressure of about 2200 psi.
As a “lazy cheapskate”, I am impressed by the challenge of the task and the sophistication of the equipment that is still – so far – not up to the demands being place on it. There is an easier, safer and more reliable way to obtain the energy we need to operate a modern society. Sure, we cannot use fission in our cars, trucks and airplanes, but just think how much more oil would be available for those applications if we were not burning oil on ships, in diesel generators, on locomotives, and in process heat applications. Imagine if we used more of the available natural gas in transportation instead of in power plants. Perhaps we could get by for a while longer without stretching quite so far into the deep water where accident response is almost overwhelmingly complicated by the environment.
In the four months that we have completed so far in 2010, each of the competitors to nuclear energy have demonstrated some of their limitations in very public ways. The natural gas burning Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, CT exploded and killed six people, the Upper Big Branch coal mine at Montcoal, WV experienced a methane explosion and killed 29 people, and the Deepwater Horizon off shore oil rig exploded, killing at least 11 people, seriously injuring another 7 people and causing what is estimated to be at least $12 billion worth of damage to the environment.
How many more such incidents will it take to convince doubters to take another hard look at the safety and environmental record that has been complied by the nuclear energy industry during the past 50 years?
Reuters Video – BP Claims Progress in Oil Spill
Reuters Video – US Oil Spill Endangers Fisheries