Bridging the Gap Between Fossil Fuels or Delaying the Adoption of Renewable Energy?
In the United States, and especially Indiana, coal has been the major source of energy for hundreds of years. Currently, Indiana ranks as the third largest consumer of coal in the nation and the fourth worst for industrial air pollution (EIA) (“US States Most Affected by Industrial Air Pollution”). As we know, coal burning releases CO2 into the atmosphere which has been considered the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change (Gertz). In recent years, businesses, universities, and companies are switching from coal to natural gas because it is cheaper, more abundant, and less carbon-producing than coal or oil (Gertz). Many colleges and universities have been especially vocal about dropping coal from their energy resources and switching to greener options (Gibson). But is burning natural gas really better than burning coal as an energy source on Indiana campuses?
I myself am a first year student at the University of Notre Dame, located in Northwest Indiana. As a young adult, I am concerned with growing environmental and energy problems and what they mean for my future. I pay close attention to how universities like my own are taking on these issues. Currently, Notre Dame burns 85% natural gas and 15% coal in its power plant, which is a vast improvement from years past, and plans to phase out coal completely in 5 years by replacing it with natural gas (Brown). Notre Dame’s plan is to slowly replace natural gas with more renewable energy sources, as they have already started with wind turbines, a new hydroelectric system, and a geothermal field (Brown). Natural gas is called a “bridge” fuel for this reason (Gertz).
Although natural gas is reducing overall carbon emissions, it poses several glaring environmental problems. The process of surface fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is used to extract natural gas but it has been linked to groundwater and surface water contamination in residential and agricultural areas nearby fracking or storage sites. Fracking may also be a factor in the development of usually minor earthquakes near these injection sites (Stockton). During the processes of extracting and storing natural gas, the greenhouse gas methane frequently leaks into the atmosphere at alarming rates. Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon and therefore poses a greater danger to the climate (Gertz). More importantly, the prolific use of natural gas delays the adoption of renewable energy sources, which overall will be better for our planet and for our own health if we adopt them as soon as possible.
Luckily, not all campuses in Indiana and the U.S. are relying on natural gas to eventually introduce renewable energy. Ball State University has taken the lead by completely refurbishing their heating and cooling system by using geothermal heat pumps, cutting carbon emissions by half, eliminating coal, and greatly reducing their dependence on natural gas (Wheeler). These major improvements show us the possibilities of greener campuses. As a college student and resident of Indiana, I am inspired by the actions taken by BSU; they stood up to a challenge they and many other schools and businesses face and decided to lead the way into a new large scale system of renewable energy. Today, I call on the students, faculty, and surrounding community to question their universities’ dependence on fossil fuels, including natural gas, and to push for faster solutions for responsible, renewable energy. It is our responsibility as well as the institutions’ responsibility to do the best thing for us and future generations, and that often means taking a stand.
Brown, Dennis. “Notre Dame Goal: No Coal.” University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame News, 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. <http://news.nd.edu/news/61083-notre-dame-goal- no-coal/>.
EIA. “Indiana — State Profile and Energy Estimates.” U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). U.S. Department of Energy, 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. <http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=IN>.
Gertz, Emily. “Why Natural Gas Could Be the Bridge Fuel to Nowhere.” TakePart. Participant Media, 3 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.<http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/09/03/natural-gas-carbon-emissions-coal-climate-change-renewable-energy>.
Gibson, Kirsten. “Students Fight To Kick Carbon Off Campuses.” ThinkProgress. Think Progress, 08 Aug. 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016. <https://thinkprogress.org/students-fight-to-kick-carbon-off-campuses-d85c3649d3b9#.exivagu8i>.
Stockton, Nick. “Fracking’s Problems Go Deeper Than Water Pollution.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 18 June 2015. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. < https://www.wired.com/2015/06/frackings-problems-go-deeper-water-pollution/>
“US States Most Affected by Industrial Air Pollution.” World Atlas. World Atlas, 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016 <http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/top-20-most-polluted-states-in-the-us.html>.
Wheeler, Brian. “Switching Sources at Ball State University.” Power Engineering. Penwell Corporation, 1 June 2012. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. <http://www.power-eng.com/ articles/print/volume-116/issue-6/departments/managing-the-plant/switching- sources-at-ball-state-university.html>.