By Alexis Litz
Last week, Indianapolis celebrated a huge victory in the fight against coal as IPL announced that it would begin the process of phasing out coal and completely converting to natural gas by 2016.
What does this mean for the citizens of Indianapolis and beyond? Cleaner air, fewer carbon emissions and no more dependence on dirty coal.
Though this is a step forward in terms of a cleaner future, not all of us are jumping for joy just yet. Mirror mirror on the wall, what is the dirtiest fossil fuel of all? Coal, obviously.
So, converting the Harding Street power plan to natural gas is clearly a step in the right direction. But as anyone with any knowledge about resource extraction will tell you, natural gas has its own ramifications.
Hydraulic fracturing, the process by which natural gas is extracted from the ground, poses a direct threat to water supplies. Millions of gallons of water — combined with sand and toxic chemicals — are injected into deeply buried beds of shale where large reservoirs of natural gas exist. The chemicals used in fracking fluid have the potential to contaminate aquifers and therefore make water undrinkable.
When water supplies are threatened, so are human lives.
Another issue to consider about fracking is the seismic activity it stimulates. In areas where fracking is rampant, such as Oklahoma, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes. Scientists believe the injection of fracking wastewater back into the ground (for disposal purposes) is to blame for the increase in seismic activity.
If the threat of earthquakes and water contamination isn't enough to turn you off the idea of fracking, consider the contribution it makes to global warming. During the process of fracking, excess methane that is not captured escapes into the atmosphere.
Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Over a period of 100 years, methane traps 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide does. The EPA estimated that in 2011, 145 million metric tons of methane were released during fracking operations.
This massive volume of methane release suggests we are heading for a planetary disaster.
In summation, fracking poses its own set of risks just as coal does. Although I did include the risks of fracking that I found to be the most pertinent, I left out some key issues that are still significant. I recommend visiting the EPA's website for more information.
Phasing coal out of Indianapolis is still a tremendous victory as it ensures we are doing our part to comply with the EPA's Clean Power Plan. It ensures that no more hazardous coal ash will be produced here in Indianapolis.
It means that we can all breath easier with fewer toxins in our air. Because of this change, Indianapolis will be an even better place to live.
For the time being, let’s celebrate and express our gratitude for the volunteers who put in so much time to protect the health of our planet and its people.
Alexis Lynn Litz
Environmental Science Minor
Student Environmental Sustainability Coordinator
President of the Green Panthers
Class of 2015