Fossil Fuels An Indispensable Tool in the Covid-19 Fight

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Energy Fairness has written before about the dangers of abandoning fossil fuels and the folly of governments and institutions “divesting” from fossil fuels. Now, as communities worldwide continue to deal with COVID-19, the value of fossil fuels has become even more clear.

While it’s clear that fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal are important parts of meeting customer demand for affordable and reliable electricity, often overlooked is the role of fossil fuels in other aspects of everyday life. For example, many don’t know that natural gas is also a critical feedstock for producing petrochemicals like isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and polypropylene. Manufacturers can’t make much of the personal protection equipment (PPE) now in high demand without polypropylene. IPA, too, is an essential ingredient for hand sanitizer and many disinfectants that are currently in scarce supply. In other words, the world needs products manufactured by the fossil fuel industry to help combat the spread of this virus. 

It’s been a hundred years since scientists with Standard Oil of New Jersey, the predecessor of Exxon, invented isopropyl alcohol (IPA). As noted before, IPA is one of the main ingredients in hand sanitizer and a number of disinfectants. Exxon has ramped up IPA production at its Baton Rouge facility by 3,000 tons per month. That increase is enough to produce 50 million four-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer!

New York has turned to Exxon to supply this critical commodity, even as New York City Council members introduced a resolution to divest the city from banks that invest in fossil fuels. That’s more than a little ironic. Despite the New York City Council disdain for fossil fuel manufacturers, Exxon still intends to provide its hand sanitizer to the Empire State for free

“We’re focused on keeping our people and communities safe while supporting frontline responders and meeting customer needs,” explained Darren Woods, chairman, and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corporation.

While hand-sanitizer and the IPA inside play their own role in slowing the spread of the virus, polypropylene is also an indispensable life-saving petrochemical. It’s next to impossible to manufacture PPE – medical masks and gowns – without polypropylene. Exxon also makes this essential plastic and has ramped up its production of polypropylene by around 1,000 tons per month, enough raw material to produce 200 million medical masks or 20 million gowns. The company is teaming with Boeing to manufacture as many as 40,000 masks per hour, products made right here in the U.S. that avoid the foreign supply chain hiccups that have led to shortages. 

In a similar move, British Petroleum announced Wednesday that it will supply 3 million gallons of jet fuel to FedEx Express charter flights and Alaska Airlines free of charge to ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential goods get to those who need it most.

Misguided cries for fossil fuel divestment have grown louder in recent years, but they are now as misguided as ever. Fossil fuel manufacturers aren’t the enemy; they’re part of the solution by making products consumers want. They’re also providing vital raw materials for the products our nation desperately needs right now. Elected officials would do well to remember that not only in these trying times but as our nation takes the necessary steps toward economic recovery. We should be embracing companies that are part of the solution, not targeting them.