By Ben Schreiner
Following the recent wind turbine fire which rained fiberglass on the surrounding land, some 57% of participants in the poll the other day voted to ban wind energy. Wellsville Sun polls aren’t legally binding, but this still seems – to me – to be a bit of an overreaction. Of course, land owners should be compensated for the damage done to their property. Of course, infrastructure should be insured against events like this going forward. But ban wind energy and embrace natural gas? Did we forget that a leaking gas well exploded someone’s house in 2021 and killed them? Maybe you can write that off as a freak accident or an act of God, but why apply a different standard to the wind turbine fire? It’s not as if natural gas “grows on trees.”
Hydraulic fracturing not only can contaminate the local water table (see https://www.propublica.org/article/epa-concludes-fracking-a-threat-to-u.s.-water-supplies), the brine used in the process is often radioactive (see https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/oil-gas-fracking-radioactive-investigation-937389). That you don’t see the poison burning into the wind doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And that’s not even mentioning the controversial association between fracking and increased seismic activity.
Even ignoring fracking – since it’s banned in New York for now – doesn’t make the use of natural gas as an energy source safe. When you combust methane (or propane) on your gas range, it creates indoor air pollution, which (in the absence of proper ventilation) leads to a variety of respiratory ailments and generally reduces life expectancy (see https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/news/natural-gas-used-in-homes). Not for nothing but air pollution exposure in general kills several million people every year globally (https://www.nature.com/articles/nature15371).
So here we have a fuel, the extraction of which creates radioactive waste and contaminates the water table, and the combustion of which poisons the air in our homes, when it isn’t otherwise leaking and spontaneously combusting. Somehow these are considered acceptable risks, and don’t qualify as grounds to ban natural gas. Perhaps because they’re less visceral than a flaming wind turbine. Or maybe because it’s usually someone else’s water that’s contaminated, someone else’s home destroyed. But it is your lungs being damaged by the particulates and nitrates coming from your stove.
None of this is to say that natural gas isn’t a preferable alternative to oil and/or coal. All of these risks arguably pale in comparison to the environmental and health consequences of oil spills and coal mining. But this isn’t a binary issue. The energy grid of the near future will not be 100% renewable. In the meantime, to point to the burning of a wind turbine as justification for banning wind energy is to ignore that all energy use has risks. It is to trivialize the very real, if often invisible consequences of the energy we already use.
Maybe we should all more carefully consider where we get our energy, and the downstream effects the extraction of that energy has on the world we live in.