Currently it is popular to bash on the Oil & Gas Industry and to prop up renewable energy as the savior of mankind. All energy sources have their place in our lives and all of them have their drawbacks. There are blogs, articles and research detailing the issues with each type of energy production, but it seems to me that anything anti-oil & gas or pro-renewables is what currently garners the most media attention.
The religious zeal with which some groups worship at the feet of renewable energy is concerning. They praise the amazing benefits of their products, but overlook the implications of truly implementing their use. No energy production method is perfect, but some groups act as if their chosen energy savior is.
Renewable energy production relies on rare earth metals, metals that are exceedingly mined and refined in China. Over 80% of the metals are mined in China and roughly 95% of these metals are refined there (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3mavb/we-dont-mine-enough-rare-earth-metals-to-replace-fossil-fuels-with-renewable-energy). As a country, do we really want to rely on another country to provide us with the base materials we would require to build out and maintain our entire energy infrastructure? Are we willing to build our energy infrastructure with these materials knowing that China is the #1 polluting country in the world and that the more we rely on them the more they will pollute.
Lithium carbonate is a major component of EV batteries and is acquired through strip mining or by pumping fresh water into holes drilled into the ground and forcing mineral rich brine to the surface. It is then allowed it to evaporate for months and then filtered then sent to another evaporating pool and so on until all the minerals are captured. This evaporation process is cheap, but does have a high potential for the toxic chemicals used in the process to leak out and get into the water table or waterways. In traditional mining the lithium carbonate is extracted through the use of chemicals and too can be highly detrimental to the local water supply in the area. Research shows lithium mining is also bad for the soil and air quality. Are we willing to look the other way while our need for lithium required for renewable energy increases the destruction of other countries lands and waters?
Cobalt is another mineral currently required in the production of lithium ion batteries. Currently, about 60% of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where about 20% of it is extracted from the ground by hand. In 2018, approx. 35,000 children were employed in the mining of cobalt in the DRC. The dust from the mining of cobalt is know to cause “hard metal lung disease” in the people mining this resource by hand. Cobalt also causes issues with the skin of the miners, causing red, itchy rashes on their exposed skin. Even with this knowledge the majority of these workers do not have any PPE to protect them while doing their work. Are we willing to jump into the renewable energy waters? knowing that the more we do so the more the demand for cobalt will rise and the more the demand rises the more valuable it will become which will lead to more people willing to risk their health and life to mine it.
These are just a few examples of why we need to take the time to really evaluate what going “Green” really means to us as Americans and as humans. Fossil fuels can be directly linked to the improvement of people’s lives through the availability of cheap, reliable energy for electricity, heating, cooking and products that have improved our overall lifestyle and life expectancy. Renewable energy production consumes massive amounts of rare earth metals and minerals, requires products made from fossil fuels to be built, requires fuels made from fossil fuels to operate the equipment used to install the solar panels and wind turbines and creates tons of waste every time old installations have to be replaced, all the while only producing electricity.
What are you willing to sacrifice to meet the currently popular renewable goals?