Military’s Embrace Of Clean Energy Reduces Combat Casualties

The Army’s development of clean domestic energy resources strengthens national security and plays an important role in helping it to achieve its primary mission. As the world’s largest consumer of energy, the military’s recognition of the importance of reducing energy use and diversifying energy supplies, particularly beginning a shift from oil, has important ramifications for the economy and the environment.

On October 29, 2013, Environmental Entrepreneurs ("E2") presented “Mission Critical; Clean Energy in the U.S. Military” at  Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s offices in New York. The speakers included Richard G. Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army;  Colonel Russell LaChance, a West Point faculty member who is shaping an energy management curriculum to train future Army leaders; Scott Sklar, the president of D.C. based Stella Group Ltd., who discussed potential business opportunities from DOD’s investment in clean energy technologies; and Kit Kennedy, Clean Energy Counsel at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The theme that emerged was DOD’s stance on aggressive objectives to reduce its fossil fuel dependence and invest in low carbon renewables and energy efficiency technologies. Military leaders contend that our current fuel mix is a national security threat, making Americans vulnerable overseas and at home.

The billions of dollars that Army is shifting toward solar energy, recycled water and better-insulated tents is not about saving the earth.  Instead, commanders in Afghanistan have found that they can significantly reduce casualty rates through energy conservation.  In Afghanistan, protecting fuel convoys is one of the most dangerous assignments. At the meeting, one participant with combat experience discussed how flying barrels of oil to remote parts of Afghanistan, apart from the exorbitant cost, places American lives at risk. Every humvee tow vehicle is subject to IED attack or ambush. 

"By reducing supply chain vulnerability, there are no commodity costs and there’s a lower chance of disruption", said the Army’s Mr. Kidd in an interview. "A fuel tanker can be shot at and blown up. The sun’s rays will still be there." 

At one remote Afghan base in Ghazni Province, there was so little available power that the base commander had to tap into the humvees for some power, which required soldiers to drive the vehicles around at night to recharge the batteries.  That problem was remedied when the base received a hybrid solar-diesel generator with capacity to store power for use after dark.

On November 22, 2013, at the Halifax International Security Forum, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlined the growing threats of climate change and the importance of developing more clean, renewable energy and improving energy efficiency within the military. In particular, he noted that in 2012 "energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements such as tactical solar gear at combat posts in Afghanistan saved roughly 20 million gallons of fuel–taking 7,000 truckloads worth of fuel off the battlefield."

In a recent blog post, Kit Kennedy of NRDC discusses West Point’s march toward clean energy goals. She concludes by saying:

"Over the past two years, NRDC has had the privilege to offer advice and assistance to West Point academic faculty and energy facility personnel on West Point’s energy needs and clean energy plans. We salute West Point for taking this important step toward meeting its net zero energy goals….  NRDC’s next step will be to review and comment on the draft plan in detail so that we can offer our recommendations on how best to move forward."

A potential stumbling block to achieving these ambitious goals is the U.S. House of Representatives. The House has voted to ban DOD from purchasing biofuels until they are cheaper than fossil fuels.  There is also a move underway to prevent DOD from pursuing the development of advanced biofuels.  These and other regressive House initiatives threaten to force the military to go backward, hurt national and economic security, and jeopardize a fledgling American energy industry. 

Hydraulic Fracturing Risks and Opportunities

On April 18, 2012, Winston & Strawn and the Environmental Law Institute co-hosted an informative seminar on, “Hydraulic Fracturing Risks and Opportunities: Regulator, NGO, Industry and Investor Perspectives,” in New York City. The meeting was expertly chaired by May Wall, a partner in the law firm’s Environmental Law Department in Washington, D.C. The panelists included Kate Sinding, an NRDC Senior Attorney and Deputy Director of NRDC’s New York Urban Program; John Imse, a principal at Environ in Denver, who advises clients in the oil and gas industry; Lawrence A. Wilkinson, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s Oil & Gas Team; and Carol P. Collier, the Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission. All four speakers were knowledgeable, informative and articulate. Unfortunately, there is insufficient space here to summarize all of the speakers’ discussion points.

John Imse emphasized how horizontal drilling evolved from the development of  “game-changing technology,” which has spurred significant changes in the gas exploration industry. As a result of new technology, there may be multiple horizontal wells drilled and developed from a single pad location – four to eight wells from a single drilling pad is not uncommon. Each well may have from as few as four to as many as twenty fracturing intervals. According to Imse, “these are not your wildcat wells of the early twentieth century,” but represent highly sophisticated technology.

Imse also discussed the evolving environmental consciousness of the gas exploration industry. He emphasized that “protective steel casing” and “a good cement job” is critical to a well’s success. Contrasting prior poor practices with current practices, Imse described the construction of drilling pads as “highly engineered sites” with liners and berms for spill control, and structural panels on working surfaces to protect the integrity of the liner. He emphasized the evolving consciousness concerning materials management, including the handling of chemicals in large volume containers; spill containment and secondary containment; and on-site 24/7 spill response.

To date, thirteen states have enacted statues requiring disclosure of fracking chemicals used by industry. These thirteen states account for 90% of current gas drilling, according to Imse. In response to pressure by the public and environmentalists, the additives used in fracking have evolved to “more green and more benign components.” For example, Halliburton is increasingly using guar-based gels and food grade mineral oil carriers, and less diesel for fracking.

There are a number of new web-based resources available to the industry. For example, the University of Colorado Natural Resources Law Center has assembled a compilation of Best Management Practices, which Imse strongly recommends as a reference.

Carol R. Collier, the Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, discussed the importance of the Delaware River Basin to New York City, which extracts 8.7 billion gallons of water per day. Collier’s “bosses” are the governors of the four states that comprise the Delaware River Basin – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware. Significant portions of Marcellus Shale underlie portions of the Delaware River Basin. Water withdrawal from the Delaware River Basin is a significant concern. In addition to the 100,000-500,000 gallons of water extracted during the drilling of the well, another 5,000,000 gallons of water is withdrawn during the production life of each well.

Kate Sinding, a Senior Attorney with NRDC, discussed the highly charged political backdrop to the fracking controversy. According to Sinding, experiences in Pennsylvania over the past three to four years have given rise to much of the current environmental debate. Fracking has challenged the long held assumption that natural gas is a more environmentally benign fuel than coal, an assumption that is now coming under fire. Sinding expressed concern about environmental issues that she believed were “not amenable to best practices.”