Letters From The Earth

What the Frack?

By Calvin Frost | April 10, 2013

I’d like to spend 24 hours with Susan Brantley and Anna Meyendorff.  Susan is a “distinguished” professor of Geosciences and Director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Pennsylvania University.  She is also a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. Anne is a faculty associate at the International Policy Center of the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan (M Go Blue, right; another one of those bastions of  “the highest” learning)!  Pretty impressive credentials, don’t you think?

These two collaborated in a recent column in The New York Times titled, “The Facts on Fracking.”  They, these two highly “distinguished and learned” educators, in my view, missed a wonderful opportunity to preach the “gospel according to Calvin.”  This is the same gospel that I’ve written about over the years in my “Letters to the Earth,” that watches, observes, reports, and opines about the happenings around our globe. 

Their column, which I want to review, misses the whole point. It says nothing about the US Energy Policy, or lack thereof. It says nothing about renewables.  It merely says drilling for natural gas is okay. And, if hydraulic fracturing gives us an alternative to some other fossil fuel, e.g., coal, we’re going to be fine. I disagree. And Susan and Anna, I want time to give you my view. (Mr. Editor, will you set this up?)

Here’s where these two miss the point: they, and we, continue to focus on why and the justification for how and where. We, all of us, just can’t seem to see through the forest. We’re not only caught up in a fossil mentality, we’re just, Susan and Anna, focused on the wrong solutions. Let’s step back for a minute.

In our industry Stan Avery created this thing called sticky paper. It took off and it grew. Sticky paper became pressure sensitive adhesive and became more and more sophisticated. This started in the mid to late 30s and early 40s.  This was the period of use and discard. Henry Ford created automation and Stan Avery developed a new “print technology.” In those days there was no concern about byproduct, effluent, elemental reduction of chemistries, and so on. Those guys, Edison, Ford and Avery were incredibly creative and “end of life” was not part of their vocabulary. And that is understandable. Use, consume and move on.  We celebrated with jobs and factories.

Fast forward 50 years, 75 years, and now we are concerned about “end of life,” cradle to cradle. Well, some of us. I listened to a presentation by Pepsico and Nestle the other day and while they are concerned about “end of life” packaging, they are still more focused on “shelf presence.” If they do this or that to the package, it will sell more drinks, chips and water. Where’s the focus on end of life? You see, it’s very basic: I have to sell product, number one. These folks in this example have designed a container with one material and wrapped it with another for . . . consumer appeal. Explain this: I’m green but I must sell; there’s the disconnect. Sorry, back to Stan Avery and our industry and Susan and Anna.

Susan and Anna celebrate the virtues of fracking. Suffice it to say that their column supports harvesting natural gas and oil, captured by drilling into the earth’s surface, so we can reduce our dependence on off-shore fossil fuel. I don’t have any problem with being energy independent.  Politically and economically this is a must. My problem with the Susan and Anna column is how we become energy independent. Edison, Ford and Avery were driven by opportunity and ingenuity. There was never ever a thought that we should step back and look at the effects of what we have done. It was full speed ahead and God Bless. Today, one would hope that our world leaders and manufacturing and religious leaders (Amen, Pope Francis) would be concerned about consequences. Not only what have we created, but what actions do we need to take because of what we have developed. Are you with me?

The point is, Avery didn’t know any better. Susan and Anna and Pope Francis do. Politics, economics, and religion: What else is there?  (Well, maybe Brubeck). Let’s all get on the same page and look at the complete picture. Really, I think I preach like a mini-Friedman. (I suggested in a note to him last year that he run for President. Needless to say, I never heard from him. Hmmm.)”

Our global population is about 7 ½ billion, estimated to become 9 billion by 2050. We will run out of water, corn, energy, condoms and the like. We just can’t go on consuming, fracking, and using our global resources without a plan. It doesn’t make sense. We are not going to spend our way out of this, Susan and Anna. We are not going to “frack” our way out of this. While I have lots of solutions for population control, I also believe that the solution to energy independence is not as Susan and Anna suggest, fracking. There is no way they will convince me. By the way, they used the verb “gotten” in their column. Maybe this is what set me off as the word does not exist.  To use an acronym I just learned: OMG.

Okay, back to basics
We, our industry, and our global community for that matter, need to make sure that everything we create has an “end of life” solution. Pepsico and Nestle: don’t just design a package for shelf appeal; design a package so it is simple and can be put through an end of life process.  That means ease of recyling. Stop creating barriers for the supply chain.

I believe in end user producer responsibility (EPR). If you produce a product, you are responsible for any byproduct that is generated when the product has been used. Hence, if you manufacture pressure sensitive adhesive laminate, the manufacturer is responsible for any byproduct that his customer generates (matrix). Hence, if a company uses pressure sensitive roll labelstock for imaging and sells the label to Pepsico or Nestle, any byproduct generated is the responsibility of the converter (liner).  Pretty simple, eh?  You create, you’re responsible. And you know what? Stan Avery would agree.

Here’s the message for Susan and Anna: we need to use the byproducts that we generate in industry as feedstocks for energy. We have plenty. We do not have to drill thousands of feet into the earth’s surface and then go another 1,000 feet horizontally to capture natural gas and oil. This is totally invasive and uses our most precious resource, water. Holy moly. Maybe you two need to spend 24 hours with me and my mentor, Lester Brown. Avery Dennison, UPM and the rest of the laminators need to take responsibility for the byproduct that their customers generate. Okay, hang me, but I know this is the solution to clean up our industry.  CCL, WS, Skanem, Spear, all of you guys need to provide solutions for the byproduct that your customers generate, spent liner. (To be fair, some of them are, but only a small fraction!)

Susan and Anna, fracking is not the solution to helping America become energy independent. Using materials that are generated as byproduct that have enormous caloric value is a much better solution.

Lester Brown always finishes by asking us to consider the entire cost of a product. For example, it isn’t just the cost of a pack of cigarettes.  It is the associated cost of illness, health insurance, and so on. If you look at the real cost of cigarettes, a pack might cost $100. Gasoline should be considered in the same way. It isn’t just the manufacturing that should be considered. It’s carbon monoxide that creates smog, lung disease, illness, hospitalization, etc. That’s the true cost, the entire cost. Gas would now cost $150 per gallon based on insurance premium increases. Reality is fun, isn’t it?!

I’ve asked this question before: who is going to step up to the plate?  The first batter will hit a home run. At least that’s how I see it.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.

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