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Drilling not the way to energy independence

In a recent editorial published on July 2 (“Until Other Solutions are Feasible — Support Drilling”), the Sun-Gazette uses its platform to support Pennsylvania’s continued use of oil and gas, arguing that – in addition to providing jobs — the ongoing exploitation of our fossil fuel resources is the only practical way to avoid energy dependence on other nations.

The editorial states that domestic drilling “creates jobs that pay well enough to support families and to support communities.” Recent studies that measured prosperity in counties in the Appalachian region affected by Marcellus Shale fossil gas development point to a worsening of economic well-being since the onset of the fracking boom. According to a report from July, 2021, “twenty-two counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia that produce 90% of Appalachian natural gas badly trailed the nation in key measures of economic prosperity, including growth in jobs, personal income, and population.”

Has Williamsport, a community which found itself at the center of NE Pennsylvania’s fracking boom, garnered long-term benefits from the industry’s promised rewards? Statistics show otherwise. The population of Williamsport has steadily declined from 29,201 (2015) to 27,603 (2021). Likewise, the city’s median household income has decreased from $55,526 (2015) to $49,843 (2021). Apparently, neither families nor the community in general have been able to count on the industry’s support.

The Ukraine war, with its revelation of Russia’s willingness to use oil and gas as political leverage, offered a floundering industry the perfect excuse to put out a call for renewed drilling in our state in the name of “energy independence.” But the fact is that true energy independence will not be possible until we free ourselves from reliance not only on Russia but on fossil fuels themselves.

Listen to what happens when we allow the status quo to continue by locking ourselves into fossil fuel production over the next several decades. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to climb to record levels. Taxpayers continue, with the blessings of our legislators, to subsidize the industry to the tune of over $20 billion a year, $3.8 billion in Pennsylvania alone in 2019. We continue supporting, and relying on, a petroleum-fueled economy that creates economic instability, causes wars, increases pollution, erodes our health, displaces whole populations, and causes climate disasters whose social and environmental costs continue to rise every year ($662 billion in 2020 alone).

The editorial also mentions the costs of hydroelectric dams and nuclear power, and the necessary subsidies for these, but neglects to mention the subsidies that the oil and gas industry already receives. Why not use that money for a transition to clean energy instead of supporting an industry that is polluting our air and water and heating the planet? To avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we must move immediately to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar; these technologies are ready to be implemented right now. In addition, the argument that we will have to sacrifice forests and lakes for new hydroelectric dams is specious. The PJM power grid already uses existing pumped hydro for the majority of its power storage. and there is no reason why renewable energy cannot provide the electricity instead of fossil fuels. Other electricity storage options are also available and have the potential to provide an even more flexible and responsive energy stream than what we currently have.

Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Energy Secretary, says it best. On a recent trip to Australia, she said no country can be “held hostage” once we switch to renewables. “No country has ever been held hostage to access to the sun. No country has ever been held hostage to access to the wind. They have not ever been weaponized, nor will they be,” she said. “So, therefore, our move to clean energy globally could be the greatest peace plan of all.”

Sandy Field, PhD, is a local volunteer with Climate Reality Project, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging communities and individuals to take action on the climate crisis. Having retired after 40 years in higher ed, Dr. Karen Elias, a long-time resident of Lock Haven, is working full-time to raise awareness about the climate crisis. She is also a volunteer with the Climate Reality Project.

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