Somerset seeks to become a major hub for supplying natural gas. It is a move in the right direction for our environment since natural gas is a far cleaner fuel than gasoline or coal.
The Commonwealth-Journal even posted a photo of Mayor Eddie Girdler with a new Honda Civic refitted to use compressed natural gas as its fuel. There are plans for the city to establish a fueling center to supply vehicles converted for the use of compressed natural gas. This is a good example of how governments can provide the impetus and startup funding for new ventures. If the idea catches on, I presume private enterprise will step in and begin to fill the demand.
With the relatively recent growth in the supply of natural gas and new methods of extraction, there is potential for the United States to actually become energy independent. Don't look for the tankers to stop running from the Arabian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico. In many cases it is still cheaper to purchase oil from those sources and often the grade of crude is superior to what we can get from, say, Canada.
I read recently that a plan by our president on fuels of the future did not include clean coal. Quite a hubbub was raised so now his plan includes that fuel. The problem is that clean coal does not exist, so I guess it is harmless to include it. Maybe we should include nuclear fusion as well even though that technology is still somewhere in the future.
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The University of Kentucky is interested in partnerships with China, which is pouring funding into developing clean-coal technology and conversion of coal to diesel, which raises the question of why private enterprise is not working on that technology if the demand for coal really exists.
One of the great deficits of our national thinking is the inability to develop long-range plans. China will develop a 50-year plan and stick to it while our attention follows the 24-hour news cycle. For ventures as large as developing a reliable source of energy, we can't just simply allow market forces to generate demand when the time comes. The United States must be proactive and move to direct funding to anticipated needs long before market forces create a profitable demand.
So, while I am encouraged by Somerset's actions, the endgame must continue to be a nonpolluting, renewable energy source to drive the next century's industries. Natural gas can fill a void as a transitional fuel from coal and oil to a nonpolluting fuel such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydrogen fuel cells or fusion. Even with as little pollution as the improved use of carbon fuels can deliver. there is still a cumulative effect on the environment.
The devastation caused by strip mining is not only visual but also invisible in the degradation of our water supply and loss of habitat for the natural residents of those areas. We are extracting oil from harder to reach places such as the ocean depths. We are extracting crude from oil sands that require a large expenditure of energy and its consequent pollution.
Our reliance on these fuels has to decline even sooner than our supply.
Fracking, the new method of recovering natural gas, is causing environmental problems that were unforeseen and even now are being denied by energy producers. Fracking involves the use of chemicals, water and other substances the companies won't reveal.
Explosions are set off at the bottom of the well to create cracks in the rock and then the chemical concoction is pumped into the well under pressure to widen the cracks and release the gas.
There are widespread reports of people who live near where this method is being used becoming ill and suffering other negative effects. There are reports of the underground water supply becoming contaminated with the fluids used in the process. What made the lights go on for me was the 60 Minutes report where a homeowner in Pennsylvania lit the water coming out of the taps in his house. Now, we know that under normal circumstances water won't burn, but when mixed with the byproducts of fracking it can. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that can't be good.
So, kudos to the city of Somerset for its forward thinking and willingness to assume the cost of development. But it would benefit everyone if government and private enterprise would be thinking about what is to follow.