While opponents of clean energy love to talk about the costs of going green, we often ignore or vastly underestimate the economic impact of sticking with the status quo. Even conservative economists have calculated that damage from coal costs the economy more than the energy it generates it's worth. And cancer clusters around oil refineries are exerting a terrible price that can't simply be measured by money.
That's before we even start talking about accidents.
Yet fossil fuel related accidents appear to be happening thick and fast at the moment, with tax payers and business owners often being left to pick up the check. Here are just a few of the incidents that have happened since the beginning of the year. Kind of puts all the fuss about a few Tesla fires into perspective, doesn't it?
West Virginia chemical spill
When a tank owned by Freedom Industries leaked a chemical (actually two chemicals) used for processing coal into the Elk River, over 300,000 West Virginians were left without water—leaving restaurants and other businesses closed for several days. While the long term health impacts of the incident remain unknown, the lost business alone has visited a profound impact on Charleston's economy. No wonder West Virginian's are demanding more accountability, and we environmentalists are wondering what we can do to help a region where fossil fuels are so entrenched.
West Virginia coal slurry spill
Just a month after the Freedom Industries spill, the Patriot Coal Company's Kanawha Eagle Prep Plant leaked 100,000 gallons of coal slurry into a nearby stream. Coal slurry contains highly toxic metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, iron, manganese, aluminum and nickel. But not to worry, there was no water intake near. So what's the problem?
North Carolina coal ash spill
This month, an employee at a Duke Energy facility here in North Carolina noticed unusually low surface levels in a coal ash containment pond. 82,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River before the ruptured pipe beneath the pond could be fixed. At the time of writing, Wake Forest University professor Dennis Lemly was offering the News and Record a baseline "conservative" cost of the spill at $70 million, saying that figure would almost certainly go up by a factor of five or even ten. Meanwhile, questions are being asked about the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resource's willingness to hold Duke Energy accountable, including their proposed $99,000 fine.
Pennsylvania fracking explosion
On the 11th of February a fracking well in Dunkard Township, Pennsylvania, exploded—burning for four days straight. One contractor is still missing and presumed dead. Chevron, however, had a plan in place to manage local concerns—offering residents free pizza as a token of their commitment to the community.
Pennsylvania train derailment
Also in Pennsylvania, a train carrying crude oil from Canada derailed in heavy snow on the 6th of February, according to the New York Times the incident spilled between 3000 and 4000 gallons before the leaks could be plugged. Fortunately, there was no repeat of the tragic explosions that killed 47 people in Quebec, Canada.
Mississippi barge spill
Down in Mississippi there's also been some disaster management going on, as a barge carrying crude oil collided with a tow boat last Saturday. ABC News reports say that 31,500 gallons of oil spilled into the river, and that officials had to close the river to traffic for two days. Leaving aside the clean up costs of a spill that large, ABC quotes a study suggesting a $290 million-a-day cost for simply closing the river to traffic.
Victoria, Australia coal mine fire
And finally, as we speak, a disastrous coal mine fire is burning over in the Australian town of Morwell, Victoria. Firefighters estimate the blaze could take months to extinguish, and there are serious concerns for the health of children and the elderly in particular. The Guardian reports that there are no plans yet to evacuate. Sadly, it appears, the fire was deliberately lit.