Why We Save: When the Cost of Energy Hits Home

As we work to save energy, one of our goals is to save dollars for consumers. But there are other costs that energy professionals can minimize as well, for example, obtaining and transporting energy and building materials. Knowing that we are helping to minimize these 'external' costs will renew our motivation to save energy, and hopefully inspire home energy users to save as well. 'External' costs include the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill; U.S and Afghan lives lost obtaining expeditionary energy for U.S. military operations; and the cost to families, flora and fauna from environmental damage to our streams and watersheds at home.

At the recent National Community Action Foundation Energy Leveraging conference, John Daws, with the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, brought home the environmental cost of Natural Gas (NG) plays in his home state. Pennsylvania has become one of the major sites for Marcellus Shale and other unconventional Natural Gas plays that use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to remove deep NG deposits contained in shale. Fracking injects water and other fluids up to 8,000 feet or more below the surface and laterally for a mile or more. The natural gas needs no additional refinement and is ready for market. As a result, fracking has turned the U.S. into an NG energy producer, and there is a projected capacity for serving domestic power needs for next 88-120 years at projected future use, not including transportation uses.

The Marcellus Shale NG industry is only three years old, and John made it clear that Pennsylvanians, and other communities with shale containing NG, are not ready for the compressor stations, under/above-ground storage and pipeline projects that are built through public and private game and forest lands as part of shale gas drilling. Pennsylvania is second only to Alaska in stream miles and the state's prior Governor leased 700,000 acres of public land, almost one-third of all state-owned acres, to gas drillers.

John called upon energy professionals to take on our role as public citizens and watch against "sacrifice areas" in energy development. Let your local government know how energy companies are developing resources in your back yard, get involved in setting the ground rules for gas plays and help insure that gas companies perform responsibly. In some communities impacted by Marcellus Shale NG drilling, tax funds are being set-aside into a green/clean tech funds to support energy efficiency and renewable energy developments. Go to Fractracker.org, at the Univ. of Pittsburgh Center for Healthy Environments and Communities.

Will a sense of culpability for having harmed another person, or the common good, by their (in)action induce home-dwellers to save energy? Read Jim Gunshinan's recent Home Energy blog post on the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference, for his update on what recent human behavior studies show.

Can government stay ahead of the energy industry and help minimize the costs of environmental damage from energy development? The Deepwater Horizon spill would lead one to say no. However, on Nov. 30th the New York State Assembly voted to impose a statewide moratorium on fracking while a comprehensive review of the practice is undertaken. The moratorium now requires Governor Paterson’s expected signature to go into effect.

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