There have been many analyses of the financial cost of energy production – in this post I am focused on the human and environmental costs.
It can seem like a huge practical joke – the fossil fuels that we have become so dependent on are tucked away into all kinds of inaccessible corners of the planet. And the more we need them to keep up with increasing demand, the harder and harder they are to find and to safely extract.
This issue of “safe” extraction has been in the news and on my mind a lot lately.
First, there was explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.
Then, the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that is presumed to have killed 11 workers. The estimates of the size of the resulting oil spill are being revised upwards (again).
There have been numerous other disasters over the years, both in the United States and the rest of the world.
There is always initial shock and outrage at these disasters, of course. But the focus of the outrage is on whether proper permits were acquired and safety procedures followed. Doubt is and will be expressed at company management and government for their oversight and handling of the crisis.
But there is little shock and outrage over the potential long-term human and environmental cost of extracting these fossil fuels, and over how little we seem to value the resulting energy. There is real risk involved in getting energy from the source, into a usable format, and transporting it to the location where it will be used.
While we should absolutely improve oversight and regulation of these enterprises, a major lesson of these disasters is that we need to rethink why we really need this energy in the first place and to use this precious commodity with increased care.