Coal vs. Fracking: Dig a Little Deeper

There has been a lot of news coverage in the past few weeks about the environmental and health hazards caused by coal mining, the production of energy from burning coal, and the environmental impact of storing water in retention ponds at power plants. Heck – even the Pope has taken a stance on coal mining and fracking, saying that we are stewards of this Earth and we are destroying God’s creation by strip mining for coal and fracking for natural gas. But what all of these reports fail to mention is the fact that energy production keeps small, rural communities financially afloat.

According to a recent story on NPR, the state of Wyoming is the largest coal producing state in the nation. (The Appalachian Mountains are a close second. In the Appalachian region, strip mining literally removes the mountaintops with explosives in order to extract coal. This poisons the air and can cause black lung, both for the miners themselves, as well as community members who live in the areas surrounding the mines.) Coal-burning power plants produce heavy smog, this contributes to high rates of asthma, lung disease and lung cancer. Coal also has negative health consequences on the heart and nervous system.

Many people have responded to the Pope’s declaration by saying that God and science are mutually exclusive, but I have to disagree. (More on that later.)

Let’s dig a little deeper and talk about the pros and cons of energy production and zoom in on rural communities themselves. The low cost of coal has forced many mining companies to go into bankruptcy. This has meant layoffs for thousands of workers. In fact:

. . . bankruptcy will likely mean layoffs for some of its 8,800 miners in five states, including West Virginia. This state already has a higher unemployment rate than any other. Here, it’s 7.4 percent, compared with 5.3 percent for the rest of the country. And the coal losses are hurting the state’s budget.

How does this relate to the oil and gas industry? For starters, one of the reasons why coal is being phased out as an energy source is because natural gas has become the most prevalent source of energy production in the United States. It also reaffirms the need for proper training to make sure that workers are following strict safely guidelines for oil and gas extraction. (This, after all, is what AYUDA is all about.) [Read more…]