Energy Sources and Right Relationship with Earth

by Margaret McCasland

All sources of energy should be produced in ways that maintain Right Relationship with Earth and with all people and all other living things. Whenever we extract energy sources from the earth to use for human activities, we do so in ways that harm Earth’s living systems and disrupt balance for living things.

We affirm the primacy of creating truly safe and renewable energy sources as quickly as possible. We are concerned that favoring natural gas as “cleaner” than coal both slows the necessary development of truly ecological energy sources, and obscures the full costs of extracting and using that fuel. Natural gas (methane) traps over 20 times* as much heat as carbon dioxide. The many ways in which it is released into the atmosphere (i.e., leaks which regularly occur during exploration, drilling, storing, processing, transmission and then combustion) negate much–if not all–of its advantages over coal. Long-term costs include: the pollution of water and soil, the destruction of roads and other infrastructure, the costs of treating health problems resulting from the release of toxins, and the loss of productivity of those whose health is adversely affected.

While there is much gas tightly embedded in shale formations throughout the US, the largest formation begins in New York and continues as far south as Tennessee. The gas industry has estimated that enough gas can be extracted from this Marcellus shale to provide about two years’ supply for the entire United States. This is an amount that can easily be saved through conservation and efficiency measures, using technology that can be implemented quickly and that will continue to reduce our needs for energy until we can fully switch to renewable sources using proven technologies such as geothermal, passive and active solar, non-food biofuels, and appropriate-scale wind and hydropower.

We call upon Friends to educate themselves and to examine their own lives and patterns of consumption. In unity with the Minute on the Care of God’s Creation, approved by Friends’ United Meeting in Triennial Session on July 15, 1999, “We call upon the nations of the world, and in particular our own governments, to enact laws and reach agreements which will protect the creation from the effects of human exploitation, greed and carelessness.”

Minute passed in December, 2009

*NOTE:  “20 times” is a very conservative way of comparing unburned methane with CO2 . (“20 times” is 1,900% more heat.) Depending on the framework being used (eg, half-life in the atmosphere over a given interval), climate scientists rate methane as holding 20, 70, or over 100 times as much heat as CO2. Any of these numbers is significant enough for us to make personal and public policy decisions about energy sources, management and uses. Keeping unburned methane out of the atmosphere seems like an obvious goal for public policies, such as the New York State’s Public Service Commissions inadequate regulation of leaks in natural gas transmission lines (methane is the primary constituent of natural gas). 1-2% loss of unburned methane to transmission line leaks is a standard minimum figure; some estimates run more like 5-8%.