Higher life expectancy, plentiful food, and soaring gross domestic product are among the benefits that much of the world’s population has enjoyed since widespread use of fossil fuels began more than a century ago. They are also the central pillars to Alex Epstein’s thesis of why fossil fuel production, and the engineering involved, equates to a moral obligation.
Epstein, founder of the for-profit think tank Center for Industrial Progress and author of the Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, was the featured speaker of this years’ SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technical Conference and Exhibition, which kicked off Tuesday in The Woodlands, Texas.
Addressing several hundred industry professionals, Epstein used the rise of the North American shale sector to highlight how, despite making possible the many advantages of living in the modern age, the wider oil and gas industry is losing the public relations battle.
“The shale energy industry could theoretically have made a very exciting case about how ‘We are going to get all this energy out of previously useless rocks,’” he said. “But the industry did basically none of that.”
As a consequence, opponents of hydraulic fracturing filled an outsized share of the information vacuum, exemplified by the controversial and popular film Gasland—a documentary that the industry has spent years trying to counter.
Epstein said that the oil and gas industry’s challenge of gaining greater public favor has been made even more difficult by the emergence of renewable energy technologies, which he views as impractical apart from hydroelectric power generation. Among his problems with renewables is that they are generally cast as “good” while fossil fuels are framed by many as “evil.”
"The moral goal that we accept with green energy is based on the standard of minimal human impact. I want to ask, ‘Is that a good standard; should we be judging our actions by how little we impact nature?'"
If the answer throughout humanity had been a definitive yes, Epstein said, then modern cities and most people over the age of 30 would not exist. These points are drawn from his philosophy of human flourishment. In contrast to natural conservation, Epstein’s view on human flourishment holds that the chief moral cause of mankind is to achieve progress by altering the natural world to its own benefit.
For him, this is where common ground may be found with industry detractors. Epstein said that when people who disagree on fossil fuel usage can agree on the need to propel humans into the future, “then we can have a discussion, because everything will always be adding up to what is best for human life.”
With regard to the issue of climate change, Epstein categorized the role of humans and fossil fuel consumption as “trivial” and said he disagreed with global warming models.
While taking exception to the severity of the most extreme forecasts, one concern he does have is that global sea levels are on the rise. “It matters how big it is,” he said. “It matters whether it is 2 ft in 100 years, which would be manageable, vs. 20 ft in a couple of decades, which would be a huge problem for a lot of people.”
Also From the Conference:
Think-Tank Founder and Author Gives Morale Booster to Fracturing Conference Attendees
Trent Jacobs, JPT Senior Technology Writer
25 January 2017