Op-Ed: The Benefits of Fossil Fuels

By Geoff Mitchell, Brandt Energy Inc.

It is becoming increasingly evident in the media there is an ideological and political war going on against civilization’s use of fossil fuels. A war that has escalated to a “takes no prisoners” stage and is solely focused on leaving the raw forms of extractable fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil and natural gas “in the ground.” The “alternative energy sources”, wind, solar and tidal, being proposed by the anti-fossil fuel warriors for “a sustainable energy future” are in reality expensive to build, have a low energy density and have intermittent availability. Further, they are generally assumed by many to be reliable and “free energy” when energy from wind that blows 30-35% of the time, the sun with solar energy available in the northeast only 13-15% of the time, and, wave/tidal current sources that only reach full output capacity for a few hours each day.

While labeled “sustainable and renewable” these energy sources  cannot on their own provide affordable energy and reliable delivery capacity to power our factories, businesses, schools, hospitals, homes, computers and the internet. They cannot replace the high energy density liquid petroleum fuels that provide us with the economic transportation options society needs to travel to our jobs, find and buy the necessities of life and support our ability to enjoy our leisure time activities. Finally solar, wind and tidal power cannot provide us with the fossil fuel derivatives of chemicals, fertilizers, medicines and other products that help feed us, cloth us, shelter us, and make our lives more comfortable and safe. The increasing use of fossil fuels and their derivatives has been the largest contributor for increasing human’s productivity to bring us where we are today and responsible for extending our life expectancy by 30% beyond that was expected just 100 years ago.

Electricity travels at the speed of light (870 million km/hr.), is extremely hard to store in meaningful quantities and must be produced as the instantaneous demand of millions of customers require it for the economic and societal uses listed above. Chemical reaction based storage batteries provide only short duration electricity supply for a few end uses. Visit any hospital or internet server farm and you will find a diesel oil or natural gas fueled back-up generator set to provide the critical power loads of the when the normal electric supply is interrupted.

Fossil fuels make the world go round. Over 85 % of the world’s energy production is from coal, oil and natural gas. Virtually all objective forecasts of total energy supply and demand over the next 25 + years shows overall increasing growth in the use of fossil fuels and clearly demonstrate that the fossil fuels cannot be totally replaced by renewable energy sources. In the U.S. Department of Energy’s Annual Energy Outlook 2015 (http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/pdf/0383(2015).pdf), the energy forecast shows renewable sources (hydro, solar, wind and biofuels) growing from 9 % of total US total primary energy supply to 11% by 2040. The rest comes from the traditional nuclear and coal, petroleum products and the increasing use of natural gas (see Figure 1).

More than 85% of the world’s energy production is from coal, oil and natural gas. Virtually all objective forecasts of total energy supply and demand over the next 25+ years shows overall increasing growth in the use of fossil fuels.

Figure 1. U.S. EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2015 - Total U.S. Primary Energy Use


For the medium and long term future these renewable energy sources remain high cost, require large government and rate payer subsidies and have not proven to be scalable to provide the plentiful, low cost and reliable energy our civilization needs to maintain our productivity and quality of life.

A developing tactic in the war on fossil fuels in the US and Canada is a ramp up the efforts to reduce the availability of fossil fuels using government regulations to slow and stop the process of authorizing new fossil fuel mining, transportation and processing facilities. The current front in both countries is on new pipeline transportation systems that move the fuels to regional and national markets and/or allowing increased exports to neighbors and world markets.

In justifying the increased regulations to limit access to fossil fuels, regulators, political leaders, government bureaucrats and the media focus on what they perceive as the negative aspects fossil fuels are believed to have on the emissions of carbon dioxide and its potential impact on a perceived accelerating global temperature increases.

Few media outlets publish the fact that increasing fossil fuel and in particular the increased use of natural gas has and continues to allow the development of technologies and higher efficiency fuel gas to electricity conversion systems.  Systems that steadily have reduced the impact combustion products have had on greenhouse gas and other emissions in the last 40 years. Figure 2 shows the US DOE - EIA history (1980 to 2013) and the IEA forecast (2013 to 2040) for energy use per capita; per dollar of Gross Domestic Product (GDP); and, GHG emissions per dollar of GDP.

More than 85% of the world’s energy production is from coal, oil and natural gas. Virtually all objective forecasts of total energy supply and demand over the next 25+ years shows overall increasing growth in the use of fossil fuels.

Figure 2. U.S. EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2015 - U.S. Energy Use per Capita, Dollars per unit of GDP and emissions of GHG per unit of GDP

Since 1980 the US energy use and carbon emissions per unit of GDP have steadily declined and in the forecast periods the carbon intensity (CO2 emission per unit of GDP) continues its steady decline by 2.3% per year. Clearly shown is that the US continues to use energy more efficiently and with less GHG emissions as its economy grows.

It is hoped that the alternative of leaving fossil fuels in the ground becomes fully recognized by our political leaders, policy makers, regulators and the press thereby allowing the continuation of the private sector to extract, transport and process petroleum products for the positive benefits these energy sources have on maintaining a strong and expanding economy to continue improving our quality of life.

About the Author

Geoffrey Mitchell is President of Brant Energy Inc., a New Hampshire based energy consulting and infrastructure development firm serving gas, electric utilities and others involved in the energy industry. During his career he has been involved in a number of energy delivery infrastructure projects in the U.S. and Canada.

He currently serves as an Executive Fellow of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a Governor and Director of Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS), Rothesay, NB, is a founding member and past President of the New England Canada Business Council and is a former member of the board of Jordan Cove Energy Project LP. He is a past natural gas representative on the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Council, served on the New York Mercantile Exchange Natural Gas Advisory Committee and was a Director of the Nova Scotia Tidal Power Corporation. In 2003 he served on the National Petroleum Council LNG Subcommittee.

Mitchell holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Massachusetts (Lowell).











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