Increasing Electrical Infrastucture Failures Lead to Generator Purchases, De Facto Fuel Hoarding, and Long Term Problems

Electric service outages are driving home generator sales.  Much of the Eastern US was pounded with heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes this past Spring, and many people I know bought home generators to prepare for more electricity outages.  Those in towns and cities mostly purchased units that run off of the natural gas already supplied to the house by utility piping, but those who don’t have that kind of access had to set up new fuel storage.  Doesn’t the storing of all this additional fuel in privately held facilities amount to fuel hoarding?  What are the short and long term impacts of this?

Economic impact of de facto hoarding was not reported.  The vast number of people setting up their own personal fuel storage took a lot of fossil fuel out of the distribution system and stored it for the future.  That probably propped up petroleum volumes, even as the highest fuel prices most Americans have ever seen drove down consumption, but I did not see any analysts picking up on this fact.  It may influence prices to be higher this year, but lower in coming years when the volume of home generator sales declines.

The ecological impact may be more important in the long term.  My biggest concern is that almost all that stored fuel is winding up in what were prevoiusly unpolluted locations, and it is a certainty that some of those fuel tanks will develop leaks over the coming decades, creating a huge number of small, polluted sites that will be discovered one at a time and rarely mitigated.  As fossil fuels become more scarce and population crests and then declines, a situation may arise in which many of those storage sites are forgotten, and only the pollution remains to create problems. 

100 years from now most of those small stockpiles of fuel will have experienced tank failure and turned into millions of spots of pollution across the globe.   The problems from the leaky gas station fuel tanks that were legislated about and mitigated back in the 20th century could be nothing compared with the widespread pollution a century from now.  For the past century of high technology not only small fuel stockpiles but also the technological objects and substances people discarded carelessly have been accumulating, many of them forgotten or hidden on private land, unknown to authorities until someone stumbles on them, but constantly leaching chemicals into the ground water. Millions of forgotten and decaying storage sites could result in both ground water and surface water contamination, with pollution increasing in all bodies of water and eventually impacting food supplies.

Ii the United States headed towards the distinction of being the most polluted country in the world?  (Or are we possibly already there?)Certainly the laws dealing with fuel storage are still in place, but I’d bet many of the new home generator owners aren’t thinking about them and wouldn’t bother to look them up, let alone comply with them, if they did.  Given the numbers of people involved (thanks to the population explosion) and human nature being what it is, future pollution problems seem inevitable, pollution that would not have occurred except for increasingly frequent failures of the electrical grid.  Thus, there is a long term impact to the simple things we do for ourselves today that I believe very few people ever consider.  Now that you’ve read this, however, you can help me figure out what can be done to protect our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

As always, I welcome your comments.  Thanks in advance — Tim


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