Economic Development

Energy Theorist Touts Benefits of Fossil Fuels

BOARDMAN, Ohio – An energy theorist and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank based in California, says efforts to constrict the use of fossil fuels stand to make overall life on the planet worse, not better.

“There are unique positives that outweigh the unique negatives,” Alex Epstein, author of the book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” told attendees at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Commerce’s annual meeting Thursday at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center. “The fossil fuel industry is the only industry that can supply enough energy so that billions can afford it.”

Epstein often clashes with environmentalists and scientists who say that the continued use of fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal – to power society has contributed to global warming and is irreparably damaging the earth. They also challenge Epstein’s reluctance to accept renewable forms of energy – solar and wind, for example – as a workable alternative to traditional energy sources.

Epstein argues just the opposite, noting that fossil fuels have a long history of supporting growth and progress in the world and that continued cultivation of these resources means a better quality of life for all.

“If we develop fossil fuels, it could make our lives incredibly good,” he told guests at the breakfast. “If we constrict it, it could make our lives much, much worse.”

However, numerous studies have determined that the overuse of fossil fuels is among the major factors affecting climate change across the globe. The effects of climate change impact national security, sea levels, public health, agricultural production and water resources, they say.

Epstein said that increased emissions of carbon dioxide, for example, helps plant life since vegetation needs CO2 to thrive.

Yet a report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 noted that the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, along with rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns “will affect agricultural productivity. Increases in temperature coupled with more variable precipitation will reduce productivity of crops, and these effects will outweigh the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide,” the report stated.

And last year, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report stating that if carbon emissions continue at current rates, food shortages and worsening wildfires will be seen in just a couple of decades. The authors estimated the global economic impact of such changes – a 1.5 degree Fahrenheit increase by 2040 – at $54 trillion.

Epstein said that he takes a philosophical view toward energy policy – it was his major as an undergraduate at Duke University – in that he wants to assess the overall impact of fossil fuels on “human flourishing.”

“I was reading an article in 2007 about [John D.] Rockefeller, and I realized that energy was the technology that powered every other technology,” he said.

What is important is that fossil fuels are reliable, Epstein noted, while renewable – he calls them “unreliable” – energy sources are not. “Solar and wind run into a lot of problems,” he said, arguing that ultimately implementing these programs actually add to average energy costs.

“I’m concerned about people who say it’s a replacement for the whole grid and fossil-fuel power because that’s impossible and it would be catastrophic to try,” he said.

What is appealing about fossil fuels is that they stand at the core of everyday life – even down to the clothing that we wear, Epstein said.

Fossil fuels are becoming an increasingly important industry for Ohio, especially since energy companies are aggressively exploring oil and gas reserves trapped in the Utica shale, says Rhonda Reda, executive director Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program.

“When you’re looking at Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, we’re showing the largest natural gas growth, not only in the country but in the world,” she said. About 85% the increase in production of natural gas in the United States has come from this region as a result of shale drilling. “It’s really incredible,” she said.

New pipelines, technology and longer laterals used by energy companies are drawing more gas per well from shale formations, she continued, helping to boost production across the entire state.

“What you’re seeing are really great investments and proven reserves in this area,” Reda said. “The exploration phase is never going to be over. I think we’ll see more exploration, more midstream and the downstream side. We’ve only scratched the surface on that.”

Among those end users that can benefit from natural gas are new combined cycle power plants that operate on gas and steam, as well as the $6 billion ethane cracker plant under construction in Monaca, Pa.

“We have to get this to market,” she said, noting that 35% of the country’s population is within a day’s drive of the region. “There real traction for processing facilities, manufacturing facilities and petrochemical facilities to be very close to the market they’re going to serve.”

Pictured: Alex Epstein argues that the “unique positives” of fossil fuels “outweigh the unique negatives.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.