Alex Epstein Comes to Pittsburgh and Talks Natural Gas

The University of Pittsburgh hosted Alex Epstein where he gave a talk about how hydraulic fracturing improves the environment.  Epstein gave a refreshing view on fossil fuels and the process by which we harvest them.  The talk gave the audience a new insight to fossil fuels and the roll they have played in our past, present and future.   

Tuesday night the Pitt Objectivists and Pitt Students for Liberty hosted Alex Epstein, President of the Center for Industrial Progress.   Epstein’s presentation was based around one thought; hydraulic fracturing is a moral and technical achievement which improves our environment by supplying our economy with more oil, a product that immensely improves our lives.  Epstein attacks the issue of hydraulic fracturing with one thought in mind, society thrives by having access to a cheap abundant source of energy.

The Presentation

Epstein’s presentation was more of talk and one that I found to be extremely rewarding.  He approaches the issues we discuss daily from a different angle, one more  philosophical in nature, but still based in facts.

Epstein began by polling the audience on whether they thought hydraulic fracturing should be made illegal.  Nearly the entire audience thought hydraulic fracturing should remain legal and natural gas operations should continue, which was a bit shocking for an event taking place in a city where development of the resource has been banned.

Epstein then discussed the perceptions of what people perceive the negatives associated with this process to be.  This portion of the discussion landed him in Gasland:

What Gasland amounts to is fracking is involved with this problem; therefore, fracking should be made illegal. Most of the criticisms involved with fracking have been fracking has not caused that problem and as far as I can tell, Gasland was wrong in every single instance which, is pretty remarkable.  (12:02)

Alex Epstein

The point Epstein is looking to make in this section is that this is a very narrow minded argument.  Making something illegal simply because there are risks involved is highly short-sighted.

What is ‘Green Energy’

During Epstein’s talk he shared a story that was written about a mining site.  He doesn’t tell us what was being mined, but instead allows the description of the story to paint the picture.

The lake instantly assaults your senses. Stand on the black crust for just seconds and your eyes water and a powerful, acrid stench fills your lungs.

For hours after our visit, my stomach lurched and my head throbbed. We were there for only one hour, but those who live in Mr. Yan’s village of Dalahai, and other villages around, breathe in the same poison every day….

Dalahai villagers say their teeth began to fall out, their hair turned white at unusually young ages, and they suffered from severe skin and respiratory diseases. Children were born with soft bones and cancer rates rocketed. (14:03)  – “Green” Wind Power Devastates Environment 

The story came from a reporter visiting a site that was used to mine for rare earth minerals involved in the production of wind turbines.  Epstein’s follow up question to the story was, “should this technology be illegal?”

Again, the point here is for people to understand we don’t have a perfect energy source; mistakes can happen, accidents can happen, abuse can happen.  So, what does “green energy” actually mean?

Fossil Fuels Are Good

To simply say any energy source is “good” is a pretty bold statement to make without providing evidence to back it up.  Epstein was more than prepared to provide evidence to his assertions.

He distributed a handout to show how life expectancy, as well as quality of life has gone up and improved from the use of fossil fuels.  He cited back to the industrial revolution, which was when the use of fossil fuels took off.  With this explanation and statement came a question about sustainability and whether or not it is something we need to be considering.  Epstein gave this different view on sustainability:

Sustainability I don’t think is the ideal, the ideal is actually to be progressive.  You look at a human society, a human society is constantly figuring out better and better ways of doing things and that’s good.  So when I go to the gas station I don’t go to the gas station to use gasoline because I think, ‘hey in ten thousand years my great grandchildren will use gasoline’, I use it because it’s the best right now.  But at the same time there are all these people conspiring to figure out how to do something better than we are now.  So essentially sustainable human resources is not what you want. What you want is the best at any time and what the mind does is continuously turn non resources into resources. (26:06)

I couldn’t agree more with Epstein’s views on sustainability.  Cheap abundant energy is a need of every person, fossil fuels and especially natural gas are that cheap abundant energy source right now.  Many people look to Germany to refute this claim, because as we know Germany went the renewable energy route with solar, but look where they are now.  According to Epstein the amount of coal fired plants they have taken offline because solar replaced the energy need has been -12 (negative twelve).  The most solar nation in the world is actually building more coal plants to make up for the energy solar is not able to provide now.

Q & A

Following Epstein’s talk was a question and answer session.  The only question needing to be addressed further was the women asking about the morality behind hydraulic fracturing.

When referring to fracking as being moral, what’s moral about having the gas and oil industry exempt from safe water drinking standards per the energy policy act in 2005.  In pennsylvania physicians aren’t allowed to know what kinds of chemicals their patients were exposed too. We don’t even know what we’re being exposed to because none of the chemicals being used are disclosed.  So you know, how is that moral? (48:05)

Since this is a common concern by many people I’ll answer it quick again.  Information for doctors on additives being used on natural gas sites can be found here.  To learn about the chemicals used at any given well site see FracFocus.org.  In terms of hydraulic fracturing being exempt from the safe water drinking standards, it is not and that information can be found here.

At the end of Epstein’s talk he left us with a few thoughts about shale in general that helped put this entire procedure into perspective.

There’s always room to improve, but I think if we combine this point of how safe this is when compared to most procedures and we combine that with the incredible economic benefits as a whole, the whole attitude of the culture should shift.  We should be viewing this as the most exciting thing since the computer.  The amount of energy we’re talking about, first of all we can get energy from stone. How cool is that?  We have taken something that was completely  worthless, something that was sitting there, I mean there’s tons of it and you can turn that into what?  Well if it’s oil you can go on a honeymoon on that, you can visit your friends, you can visit your family.  I can fly out here and talk to you about energy. If you know about oil, oil is the main material in most of the products we have, the rubber on your shoes, your cloths, fertilizer. The amount of things we can do with this useless rock is just incredible and the fact that we can do it with so few hazards is amazing.   (36:01)

Epstein’s views on what hydraulic fracturing means not only for our economy but our way of life is refreshing.  Even the most opposed person to this process needs to realize where the items they use daily come from.  With the need for cheap abundant energy, traditional energy sources are still a big part of our past, present and future or as Epstein would say, “Fossil fuels are good.”

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