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Power Generation

No matter how you feel about renewable energy, nuclear, hydroelectric, fossil fuels, biofuels or any other form of power generation, all forms of energy come at a cost. As consumers, it is up to us to know the facts about where energy comes from and what the costs and benefits are of each form. In addition, it is important to remember that there is a difference when it comes to power generation, in the form of electricity and fuel, and energy consumption, in the way we live our day to day lives.

Listed below are the major forms of power GENERATION and some important costs and benefits of each. We are not advocating for any one form of energy over another, but simply stating some of the arguments from both sides. This is a complex issue and this summary cannot be completely comprehensive. Rather it is designed to bring to light some of the issues surrounding each source. We have included links to more in-depth articles that are useful should you want to study each more in-depth. In addition to the types of energy used for power generation, we have included a discussion about “NIMBY” thinking. We all use energy, but the “not in my back yard” thinking that goes along with it makes any form of energy unsustainable long-term. The links to each form of energy are below.

If you have additional questions above and beyond the information given here, please feel free to contact us directly and we will gladly answer your individual concerns.


No form of energy is without objection when it comes to where it is located.  People object to wind farms, solar farms, oil and gas operations, nuclear power plants, transmission lines, pipelines, etc. While everyone uses energy, no one wants the production of it in their back yard or obscuring their views.  This makes all forms of energy, including renewables,  unsustainable.  If no one wants production near them and we all lobby to shut it down, where will  that leave us?   Baring any unforeseen creation of new forms of energy, the movement from fossil fuels to more renewable forms of energy will take several decades.  We need both cooperation and understanding from everyone using energy that the production of it is impacting someone or something – whether that is where people live, the environment, or plant and animal life. ALL forms of energy come at a cost. 




Coal, oil and natural gas are currently the most common source of energy for power generation worldwide, being electricity and fuel. In addition, fossil fuels are used in the manufacture and transportation of most products currently on the market and consumed every day. Fossil fuels account for 96% of our daily activity and 55% of every barrel of oil produced goes toward products, with only 45% being used for fuel. The burning of fossil fuels is considered to be the leading contributor to climate change worldwide.

And, since you cannot discuss fossil fuels without including fracking, we have included a separate discussion regarding the costs and benefits of fracking below.

Benefits of Fossil Fuels:

  1. Easy to find and well developed – current technology has made finding and developing fossil fuels not only easier to access, but has allowed existing sources of coal, oil and natural gas fields already in existence much easier to develop further and at a costs that continually increase as the science and technology increase.
  2. Cheap, reliable and easily transportable – as technology has increased, it has made the finding and development costs of fossil fuels the most competitive form of energy for power generation. They are excellent types of fuel to use for the energy base-load, as opposed to some of the more unreliable energy sources such as wind and solar. Virtually everything you see, touch, and use in your daily lives is derived from the benefits of our use of one or more of the fossil fuels; oil, coal and gas. The availability of cheap, plentiful, reliable, scalable, and dependable supplies of fossil fuels has industrialized the world and improved every aspect of the lives of billions of people worldwide. In addition, they are easily transportable via train, ship and pipeline and can be stored, unlike wind and solar.
  3. They are still available in plenty – contrary to popular belief, worldwide reserves of coal, oil and natural gas have increased over the past few years. Again, this is due to new technology that has given us access to fossil fuels – in particular, oil and natural gas in shales – that were previously unable to be developed. It is estimated that, at current reserve levels, we have enough oil and gas to power the planet for another 50 to 75 years, plus or minus. But these estimates do not take into account new technology developments that can help us access even more oil and natural gas, particularly in shales. It is estimated that we have enough coal reserves worldwide to last several hundred years. The graphs below show the increase in reserves from 1980 to 2014. 

Additional Resources:


Costs of Fossil Fuels:

  1. Environmental Degradation – one huge argument against the use of fossil fuels is, of course, the pollution that it can cause. This problem is directly caused by burning fossil fuels all throughout the world, releasing carbon dioxide into the air, which is also directly linked to global warming. Fossil fuels have caused carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to rise by more than 25 percent over the past 150 years.  In addition to carbon dioxide, the burning of fossil fuels also produces nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and sulphur oxides, further contributing to air pollution. The extraction, production and transportation of fossil fuels can also cause significant land and water pollution.
  2. Finite resource – despite the technology improvements that have led to increased oil and natural gas reserves over the past decade, the fact remains that fossil fuels are a finite resource. The amount of these energy sources found beneath the Earth is all that we are ever going to get, and if the coal, gas and petroleum reserves are depleted, there would be nothing more left. Fossil fuel scarcity could cause huge social and economic impacts in the future. Oil is the commodity most in danger of the supply running out due to its increased use in the production of many products, mainly plastics, as well as a fuel source.
  3. Public Health Issues – because of pollution and environmental concerns, fossil fuels are indeed hazardous to human health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), millions of premature deaths that occur each year are linked to air pollution, and people who are living in areas with a large amount of traffic are at a higher risk. Working on an oil rig, mining for coal and working in a natural gas plant are all industrial jobs giving them a higher incidence for accidents and/or death.

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While fracking has been used for 65 years to access oil and gas underground, it’s modern day use began in the mid-1990’s as a way to unlock the natural gas in shale rock formations that had previously been unavailable for commercial production. While the process is largely misunderstood by the majority of people, the need for it has greatly increased oil and gas reserves, especially in the United States. Fracking is necessary in shale plays because the porosity and permeability of the shale formations is so low that without fracking, the reserves are not commercially productive. Fear and misunderstanding surround most fossil fuel production, but fracking is needed and necessary if we are not willing to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel based products.

Banning fracking will NOT ban consumption of petroleum based products and 96% of all our daily activities are fossil fuel based!   If we do not change our consumption, what will that mean to the United States politically and economically? How will our consumption needs be met? We need to think beyond fracking and look at our individual responsibility and consumption to effect positive change long term.

Benefits of Fracking

  1. Fracking is safe – 99.5% of the materials used in fracking consist of nothing more than sand and water. The remaining .05% are chemicals that are common in everyday household items and foods such as a surfactant (found in dish soap) and guar gum, a thickening agent used in most foods. While many people worry that the groundwater will be contaminated, the formations being fracked are thousands of feet below groundwater. Hydraulic fracturing is accomplished by using sand and water at very high pressure to “crack” the rock to increase the porosity and permeability of the shale and access the hydrocarbons. Even with high pressures, the cracks generally extend only about 400’ or less from the actual wellbore meaning there is no way for the water or any hydrocarbons to reach the groundwater formation thousands of feet above operations.
  2. Energy independence for the United States – There are enough fossil fuels “locked” in bedrock shale formations under North American soil to make the United States energy independent, and a net exporter of oil and gas, in the near future. Tapping those energy sources would make the United States less dependent, economically and politically, on unstable countries such as Venezuela and the Middle East. It would also enable the West to be less dependent on Russian natural gas. Banning fracking in the United States would stop production, but it would NOT change our consumption habits, making us even more dependent on the rest of the world for our energy needs.
  3. Cleaner fuel and better health: The new supply of natural gas reachable by fracking is now changing the overall picture for U.S. electricity generation, with consequences for air quality. Increasing reliance on natural gas is creating widespread public health benefits. The new supply of natural gas produced through fracking is displacing the burning of coal, which each year contributes to the early death of thousands of people. Coal made up about 50 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2008, 37 percent by 2012; meanwhile, natural gas went from about 20 percent to about 30 percent during that same period. In particular, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced dramatically. While the uptick in natural gas production does not yet have a direct correlation as to the displacement of coal fired gas plants, most states are moving in that direction and the benefits are substantial.

Additional Resources:


Costs of Fracking:

  1. Health concerns – While 99.5% of materials used in fracking are sand and water, the other .05% are chemicals that major oil companies are not required to disclose. Most do report what they use to an organization called FracFocus.org where individuals can go to see what has been used in each individual well, many companies will claim that the exact formulas are “trade secrets” and are not required to list the exact amount of each chemical. This makes it difficult for residents in the vicinity of operations, and first responders, to prepare for an accident or emergency. It also makes it more difficult for scientists to gauge any potential threat posed by the chemicals. In addition to chemical concerns, oil and gas operations are labor intensive and there is an increase in truck traffic, especially during drilling and fracking operations, which lead to increased emissions and poorer air quality. The increase in truck traffic can also create more dust and particulates in the air around populated areas and an increase in traffic volume can also lead to an increase in accidents, putting nearby residents at risk.
  2. Water concerns – There are many concerns about groundwater contamination from chemicals on the surface and/or fracking operations. There is methane that is naturally occurring in many groundwater sources and has been occurring for centuries. This is biogenic methane. The type of methane produced during oil and gas production is thermogenic methane and occurs thousands of feet below the earth. Groundwater contamination from surface operations or an old wellbore that has lost its integrity, can and does happen, although rarely. Please see below from http://www.water-research.net/index.php/methane for a discussion of the two different types.

    There are two main types of methane found in rock formations and groundwater.  The types are based on a difference in origin, not composition:
    1. Thermogenic methane, which is formed from buried organic matter at considerable depths where the rocks are compressed and heated; this includes the methane found in coal, gas from some Devonian sandstones/shales, and gas from the Marcellus and Utica Formations.  Methane is produced by the inorganic breakdown of organic matter (heat and pressure).
    2. Microbial (previous terme biogenic or bacterial methane) forms closer to the surface by the action of bacteria (methanogens- “bacteria that produce methane and cannot live in an environment with oxygen).  This would include methane generated in landfills, lake sediments, wetlands/swamps, organic-rich glacial deposits, other recently buried organic deposits, and other carbon rich environments that are without oxygen. Microbial methane gas typically contains 20 percent to 30 percent less methane than is found in thermogenic natural gas.

  3. Earthquakes – It has been well documented that there has been an increase in seismic activity in areas of active drilling and fracking operations. However, according to the United States Geological Society (USGS), the increase in earthquakes is due to wastewater injection wells, not fracking. Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than hydraulic fracturing, making them more likely to induce earthquakes. Wastewater is found at all well sites, even wells that have never been fracked, as salt water is commonly produced along with oil and natural gas. In many locations, wastewater has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing operations. In Oklahoma, less than 10% of the water injected into wastewater disposal wells is from hydraulic fracturing fluid. Most of the wastewater in Oklahoma is saltwater that comes up along with oil during the extraction process. There is still more research that needs to be done with regard to this issue to determine the long term consequences of injecting wastewater back into formations as well as understanding how much of the movement is normal shifting of the earth’s core. Please see link below for a thorough discussion of how the USGS is addressing this issue.

Additional Resources:



Wind, like solar and hydroelectric, is a renewable energy source. We have a never-ending supply. Wind energy doesn't pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas. Wind turbines don't produce atmospheric emissions that cause acid rain or greenhouse gases. But because the wind doesn’t always blow, it can be an intermittent and unreliable source of energy.

Benefits of Wind Power:

  1. Clean Fuel Source: Wind energy doesn't pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas. Wind turbines don't produce atmospheric emissions that cause acid rain or greenhouse gases. It is abundant and lessens our reliance on fossil fuels from outside nations which helps our economy and offers a variety of other benefits.
  2. Renewable: As a renewable asset, wind can never be drained like other regular, non-renewable assets. Winds are caused by rotation of the earth, heating of the atmosphere by sun, and earth’s surface irregularities. We can harness wind energy and use it to generate power as long as sun shines and wind blows. The expense of delivering wind energy has dropped fundamentally lately, and as it becomes more popular with the general population, it will just continue to be cheaper.
  3. Rapid Growth: Wind energy has seen enormous growth in last decade. According to U.S. department of energy, cumulative wind power capacity increased by an average of 30% per year. However, wind energy only accounts for about 2.5% of the total worldwide electricity production.

Costs of Wind Power:

  1. Unreliable and Inconsistent source of power: Because the wind does not always blow, wind is an unreliable energy source. In addition, consumer demand for power fluctuates during the day with peak times typically being highest around 8 am, noon and between 5 and 7 pm. Unlike conventional power plants, wind turbines cannot be “turned on” in response to demand needs. Wind turbines respond only to the wind, so their contribution to supply is essentially random. The wind may be high when demand is low, or vice versa. If there is sufficient demand when the wind rises, wind power may reduce the need for other plants to supply power. On the other hand, if the wind drops when there is still demand, other plants must quickly jump in to cover the loss. The more frequent ramping or switching of these other plants raises costs and may lower their efficiency and increase their emissions.
  2. Wind is not “green”:
  3. Winds kills wildlife:

Additional Resources:



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