Minnesota’s Choice: Natural Gas or Wind?

I recently blogged about Minnesota’s leadership in community wind project financing. This week I bring disturbing news about an industry that poses a threat to wind power development—and a major threat to the health of people and land across the country.

Doubtless you have heard good things about natural gas, the trendiest “clean fuel” on the market. Though natural gas is cleaner-burning than oil and its domestic availability is often championed as a solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil, the main process used to extract natural gas from the earth is highly problematic. Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, involves blasting enormous volumes of water, sand and chemicals (a mixture known as “fracking fluid”) into the earth at very high pressure in order to create fissures in the rock through which gas can flow.

As the documentary “Gasland” reveals, people living near natural gas hydrofracking sites have seen their water, their land and their own bodies dangerously poisoned. Many of these people can light their tap water on fire due to contamination with natural gas. Other contaminants include radioactive compounds that are released from deep underground during the hydrofracking process.

Though Minnesota has thus far escaped becoming a fracking zone, it has not escaped complicity in the process. Minnesota, along with Wisconsin and Illinois, is home to highly coveted “fracking sand”—sand so perfectly suited for fracking fluid that Minnesota’s “Ottawa white” variety has been called “the Coca-Cola of the frack sand industry.” South Eastern Minnesota is another key target for the industry.

Minnesota’s frack sands are thus poised to spur natural gas production, in a potential threat to our state’s own promising wind industry. Not only are both natural gas and wind seen as belonging to the same “clean energy” category (despite the significant drawbacks of natural gas), but the energy option with the lowest cost of generation ultimately looks best to energy companies and utilities alike.

Right now, increased production means natural gas prices are taking a dive. Floyd Robb, of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, says: “if anyone is contemplating a wind project today, they would be looking very closely at what natural gas prices are and what is going to ultimately be the lowest cost generation.”

Minnesota can remain ahead of the curve on wind power, or we can become a forerunning contributor to the natural gas industry. Given the choice, I would opt for wind power any day.

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Energy  Wind Energy  Community Safety 

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