Current Energy Policy

The Obama Administration energy policy focuses on renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and nuclear.

In the recently proposed 2013 energy budget, the Obama Administration demonstrated its belief in creating a sustainable energy future. The budget focused on ways to increase the amount of jobs related to renewable energies, advance clean technologies, and increase national security in relation to energy sources and maintenance.

The budget proposes increasing jobs by investing in American green technologies and moving away from oil. One of Obama’s energy goals is to reduce American dependency on oil by one third by 2025. This will help create a market for new American technologies that will take the place of oil.

Below are just a few examples of what the funds in the proposed energy budget would finance:

  • Solar power cost reduced by 75% to make this clean source of energy competitive with other energy sources. The idea would be that eventually solar would be competitive without relying on subsidies to lower the cost.
  • Wind energy is another area that the budget is investing money as a means of increasing renewable energy.
  • Nuclear power plants would be updated to improve safety.
  • Coal burning power plants would receive funds to increase their efficiency which would reduce the amount of CO2 created during the burning process.
  • Research into new energy technologies that would help reduce dependency on oil

These are all important areas of energy development that would reduce dependency on foreign oil and increase the presence of renewable energy. Thought it seems that to decrease oil consumption overtime, specific investments in oil alternatives should be outlined. A greater investment in biofuels and public transportation infrastructure could prove effective. The new proposed budget is a direct reflection of the 2010 energy policy of the Obama Administration. The administration’s policies regarding energy support renewable sources and aims to reduce the usage of energy supplied by fossil fuels.

Centralia Pennsylvania Coal Mine Fire: A Timeline of Events

In 1962 the small town of Centralia Pennsylvania, population 1,100, decided to use an abandoned strip mine as a landfill. Those constructing the landfill were instructed to fill in the many holes created by failed mine shafts with fire resistant material before they filled the area with trash. Soon after opening, there was a trash fire at the landfill that was extinguished over the course of a day. While cleaning up the mess created by the fire, 15 feet hole was discovered that led directly to the underlying coal mines. This hole allowed the fire to ignite the extensive coal seam under the city and surrounding area.

In 1969 the coal seam was still smoldering, so a trench was dug in front of the coal fire to stop its advance. Unfortunately, only a handful of construction workers were hired, they worked only a few hours a day, and were given Memorial Day off of work. By the time the trench was completed several days after initiation, the fire had managed to spread past the trench.

The fire was thought to be extinguished until 1979 when a local gas station owner discovered that the underground gas tanks had a dangerously high temperature of 172˚ F. This discovery raised the town’s concern over the dangers of the fire.

In 1981 the still burning coal fire turned dangerous when a hole 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep suddenly opened up under a 12 year old boy while playing in his grandma’s backyard. Similar incidents of mine subsidence occurred in town and noxious gas emanated from the ground. Chronic respiratory illnesses were reported throughout the town.

A small example of mine subsidence.

In 1983 another plan to build a trench was proposed to contain the growing coal mine fire.  The plan was to dig a 500 feet trench around the entire town to stop the fire from spreading to the other towns nearby. This would force all residents to abandon their homes and evacuate the town. The town’s people felt that this plan definitively proved that the government was just trying to seize control of the mineral rights to the underlying coal that would be worth thousands of dollars. After a state government review, it was determined that the proposed plan was too expensive, so it was decided to just let the fire burn itself out. Though the fire was left to burn, the government decided to buy out all of the town properties and evict the people.

By 1991 Most of the buildings in Centralia were demolished and the highway leading to the town was closed, and in 1992 all remaining buildings were claimed through eminent domain and condemned.

As of 2006, only 11 people remained in town and refuse to surrender their property. The fire continues to burn and cause damage to the area. The highway passing thorough a nearby town has suffered repeated damage from the fire and has been permanently diverted around the area.

This is an image of the damage to the highway caused by the fire.

Currently, the fire underlies 400 acres and is still spreading. Steam vents, unstable ground, carbon monoxide, and poor air quality are a few of the dangers from the fire.

Sign posted on the outside of town to warn travelers.

Legal action is under way to evict the last 9 remaining residents of Centralia while the residents fight to overturn the states claim of eminent domain. The city is no longer shown on maps and its postal code was revoked. If left alone, the fire could continue to spread and burn for another 250 years.

Image of Centralia taken in 2001. Follow this link for more 2001 images of the town.

I decided to post this because Centralia Pennsylvania is a tragic example of the damage that fossil fuels can cause. Most people consider the effects of burning coal for electricity, but few realize the hazards created from obtaining the coal. The Centralia fire started because of abandoned coal mines that were not properly sealed. The immense underground fire will burn for centuries and emit large quantities of carbon dioxide and noxious gasses into the atmosphere. Even today the town is affected by our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. The nine remaining residents living in Centralia refuse to leave because they believe the government is trying to steal their mineral rights. They do not accept that they must abandon the area due to immense health concerns and physical danger. It is our nation’s high investment in coal that is keeping the residents of Centralia and others like them from doing what is in their best interest for their health. Coal mining accidents are common and can cause great harm to all involved. These accidents could be reduced if our dependency on coal derived energy was reduced. At some point there comes a time when obtaining coal and other fossil fuels will become very dangerous and we must make a choice between what is cheap and what is safe.

Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a cutting edge technique for extracting natural gas from shale. The process involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals into a shale formation at very high pressures. The objective is to fracture the rock and release the natural gas for collection. This process has allowed previously unproductive shale to become a large producer of energy.

This cartoon shows how the overall fracking process works.

There are numerous injections sites that have sprung up overnight all across the country to take advantage of the large reserves. Though fracking generates large quantities of natural gas and provides thousands of jobs, not everyone is sold on the idea. Residents in proximity to these new injections sites are expressing growing concern over the safety of fracking.

Many residents are concerned that their drinking water may become contaminated by the fracking chemicals and gas. In one study, the EPA found evidence of contamination in the drinking water of a town in Wyoming. Due to the complicated nature of subsurface geology however, occurrences at one location aren’t necessarily an indicator that it would happen at another location.

Along the same lines, fracking is being blamed for earthquakes in McDonald Ohio. Injecting high pressured water into the subsurface has been linked to earthquakes and low-level seismic activity in other situations, so it is highly possible that it was the fracking that triggered the 4.0 earthquake. This is especially likely at the injection site of McDonald because it is in close proximity to a fault line. The injected water could create changes in pressure that would cause the rocks near the fault to shift and trigger an earthquake. Though fracking can trigger seismic activity, I don’t believe that the resulting earthquake would be strong enough to be damaging. And even though seismic activity is occurring at this location, it doesn’t mean that it would cause earthquakes in other locations.

The solution to these issues and the others surrounding fracking may be to investigate the process and its effects in greater detail before the process becomes the more prevalent. Or perhaps, going to the extreme measure of breaking rock with high pressure water and chemicals is not the direction energy should be moving. Instead of exploiting the environment for every last bit of fossil fuel, our directions could be refocused on finding new and more sustainable resources. If there are severe environmental complications caused by fracking, the companies responsible may end up paying more money in damages than it would have cost to explore a renewable source of energy.