Oil Junkies of the 21st Century: It’s Time to Wean Off Fossil Fuels

Energy is America’s most controversial issue to hit the 21st century. Currently, our dependency on oil is greater than ever. We use this non-renewable resource on a daily basis. In fact, oil, accounts for the largest percentage of the worlds energy consumption. At 30 billion barrels of oil per year. This is 2.5 billion barrels of oil per month on average. We use oil to heat and cool our homes, for transportation and to operate our factories and machines. Carbon and hydrogen molecules that have been dormant for millions of years are syphoned out of the earth’s crust and made into liquid gold.

oil 400x267 Oil Junkies of the 21st Century: Its Time to Wean Off Fossil FuelsOur dependency on fossil fuels is due to it being our main source of energy. The United States is the largest consumer of oil and the third largest crude oil producer in the world. The Natural Gas Association of America estimates that by the year 2035 the United States will spend more than $600 billion in new oil and gas infrastructure. Today, there are 190,000 pipelines operating in the United States. Pipeline safety is under increased scrutiny. Oil extraction and transporting of the oil, account for many accidents. Transporting oil through pipelines can have major consequences. There are random explosions and spills due to old, corroded pipes that eventually rupture.

The recent fuel pipeline explosion that took place in Alabama on Monday, October 31, 2016, is still burning. Colonial Pipeline, based out of Atlanta, owns that pipeline. It supplies the entire region from New York down to the Gulf Coast where it starts. This pipeline supplies 40 percent of refined fuels to this area. Due to this accident, the cost of gasoline has shot up for all of the people in that region. The pipeline continues to burn and so far as much as 168,000 gallons of gasoline are in flames. According to the Associated Press this is their 178th accident since 2006.

Oil transportation is a risky business. Accidents frequently happen whether the oil is in a pipe flowing through the ground, on a train, on a truck or is being carried through the oceans on a ship. Error is bound to happen. It is just when and to what extent of a natural disaster are we going to face. According to the list of pipeline accidents in the United States in the year 2015 alone, there were 35 accidents. A total of 17 states where accidents occurred, 267,880 gallons of crude oil lost and caused $4,480,364 in property damage. There were 5 deaths and 21 injured. The annual number of accidents on oil and petroleum pipelines has shot up almost 60 percent, matching the rise in crude oil production.

Another pipeline that is getting lots of attention at the moment is the Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer owns the Dakota Access Pipeline. They are in the process of building a 1,172-mile pipeline that begins in North Dakota, crosses through South Dakota, into Iowa and ends up in Illinois. It is proposed to transport one million barrels a day of crude oil. It is a $3.7 billion project. Last year the investors of Energy Transfer received a cash distribution of $3.2 billion, with Warren, the Founder, having a net worth of $7.3 billion.

The pipeline is currently being constructed on Native American land, owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe claims that if the Dakota Access Pipeline bulldozes through that 38 miles of their reservation that it will destroy their sacred burial and prayer sites, along with their artifacts. They also want to protect the Missouri River from spills of any sort, due to it being the main water source in the area. Just last January there was a spill in Montana from a pipeline that leaked 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River. The tribe is trying to prevent an accident from destroying their water source.

Currently there are two million miles of pipeline in operation across the United States. The practice of moving crude oil around in underground pipelines presents challenges. Energy Transfer has had 30 pipeline incidents between 2006-2016. They spilled a total of 9,565 barrels and paid $9,562,035 in property damages. In 2016 alone, Energy Transfer had five incidences, with 7,832 barrels spilled and $2,406,472 in property damages.

We need to begin the process of weaning ourselves off of the fossil fuels. Our planet earth is suffering. “It is a fact that oil and natural gas sector is the second-highest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions,” stated the Environmental Protection Agency. The fracturing and fracking is a major component of this industry. 225 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted a year into our atmosphere. Greenhouse gas traps heat in the atmosphere, making the earth warmer. Scientists call this global climate change, when the average temperature of earth increases. Scientific consensus on climate change is that all major science agencies in the U.S. including NASA, NOAA and the EPA “agree that climate change is occurring and humans contribute to it.” Climate change is at an unusually rapid rate in the year 2016. Compared to 2,000 years ago, global temperatures have risen quite significantly over the last 100 years. This is projected to continue changing at a faster pace than any other time in history. The global sea levels have risen 7.5 inches on average since 1870. Our seas are predicted to rise by 1-4 inches if this warming trend continues at this speed.

Global warming could have far bigger implications than we could handle. It could affect our crops. If it gets too hot to grow certain crops with lesser amounts of water to grow the crops, then this balance is out of order. Our water sustains us. Warmer weather means more droughts and less water. We will have power outages and black outs. The snowmelt fills our lakes, rivers, and streams. We could have less snowpack, earlier snowmelt and reduced water supplies. This would also affect recreation in the mountains for skiing, snowboarding, and all the businesses that depend on the snow. Our plants are growing and blooming earlier in the spring and surviving longer in the fall. One quarter of our plants could become extinct. The animals need the plants to live, so they are going to be affected. Just losing one species kicks our balance off and could affect our predators, pollinators and sources of shelter. Then there is ocean acidification. Our coral reefs, which are created by millions of tiny animals called corals, make skeletons and provide habitat for many fish and other ocean creatures. The warmer temperatures in the ocean are creating coral bleaching, which is damage to the corals. These shallow tropical waters could lose all of the live corals by 2050 if we continue on this path. This in turn will disrupt the food web that connects all living things in the ocean.

Humans have a difficult time comprehending nature on a cerebral level, it is immeasurable. We experience the ‘awe’ of it in our day to day living. Sunsets, rainbows, whales, elephants, ancient trees, or a rose, all of those ordinary experiences are extraordinary. In order to combat global warming and keep our planet free from disaster we must wean ourselves away from damaging energy and step into the renewable resources that are out there such as wind and solar power, and electric vehicles. We must pay attention to all of the incredible minds out there that are inventing the next, best and cleanest energy.

Must we continue to create environmental catastrophes in order to provide energy for our planet? Humans thrive on progress, but at what price are we paying to progress only with one energy source that is unsustainable and toxic. 

Listen! I cannot hear you! Did you say something about your home, your planet? I still can’t hear you. The noise of commerce cancels out your cry.

We, the people, are crying out. We shout out for help, but it seems to only arrive after the damage is done. We are filled up and overflowing. Our crying has become wailing, but still we aren’t heard.

C.J. Quinn is the author of Talia and the Capture of Wrath, a middle grade fantasy novel that raises environmental awareness. She currently resides in Bainbridge Island, WA with her family. Learn more at www.cjsoulwriter.com.