A Free-Market Energy Blog

COVID P&D: The Visible Hand of Oil and Gas

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 14, 2021

” … during challenging times, this fact becomes crystal clear: our energy resources make modern life possible and are absolutely critical to our health and well-being.”

The production and distribution (P&D) of the COVID vaccines is just another example of oil and gas at work in innumerable ways. Institute for Energy Research (IER) President Tom Pyle recently brought attention to the connection:

On Dec. 14th, the first approved COVID vaccine was given to a healthcare worker in New York. During the following weekend, a second vaccine was approved, shipped, and distributed. We are a long way from seeing the other side of this, but these were hopeful signs.

While drug companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and BioNtech are the face of the COVID vaccines, it’s the American energy industry that is the backbone of our fight against the virus and our efforts to develop an effective vaccine to stop its spread. Unfortunately, the energy industry and its employees are the ones being omitted from this success story. 

Some key points: 

•  Medical equipment including face masks, diagnostic equipment, disposable gowns, shoe booties and hoods, housings for test kits, goggles, surgical gloves, surgical instruments, and much more are made from oil and natural gas.

•  Plastics help keep medical environments and treatments sanitary, safe, and effective through single-use and plastic-based devices that eliminate dangerous cross-contamination.

•  The two approved COVID vaccines must be kept at negative 70 and negative 20 degrees Celsius. Oil and natural gas make industrial refrigeration at these temperatures possible.

•  Once the vaccines are mass-produced at production facilities, they need to be distributed to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices. 

•  Whether they are shipped by plane, truck, or other vehicle, petroleum products will be used to distribute the vaccines across America.

Pyle concludes:

… our energy resources are the backbone of our modern way of life. Ordinarily, it’s a fact that quietly happens in the background as our lights shine, our supply chains run smoothly, and our travels go uninterrupted. But during challenging times, this fact becomes crystal clear: our energy resources make modern life possible and are absolutely critical to our health and well-being.

IER published a Policy Brief last month that reached these conclusions:

  • The “miracle vaccines” for Covid-19 would not be possible without the huge contributions of America’s first-in-the-world supplies of oil and natural gas.
  • Hydrocarbons are the basis of organic chemistry which in turn makes plastics that are used in the production of vials, screening and protective gear and thousands of other applications throughout the medical logistics chain.
  • Plastics have innumerable medical uses from the casing of an open MRI machine to the housing of refrigeration units, where many vaccines and medicines are stored until use, to the smallest tubing. Plastic medical equipment has made health care simpler and less painful and they can be mass-produced at low cost.
  • Hydrocarbons derived from oil and natural gas make medical supplies possible to manufacture, including IV components, syringes, tubing, polypropylene masks, gowns and goggles to protect first responders and patients.
  • Hydrocarbons provide 63 percent of our electricity nationwide used in hospitals, production facilities, cooling and sterile air handling.
  • 95 percent of our transportation fuels – gasoline, diesel and jet fuel – necessary to transport all the personnel, component parts and eventually the vaccines themselves, comes from oil and natural gas.
  • Hydrocarbons make modern life possible in every link of the chain for sustaining life and producing medical “miracles.”
  • Modern, accelerated development and deployment of life-saving vaccines are impossible without hydrocarbons, with which the United States is uniquely blessed through its vast resources.
  • Plans to zero out hydrocarbons in our electrical system (in 15 years) and throughout our economy (in 30 years) would harm the medical profession both in research and administration and could cost countless American lives in the process.

In addition, a podcast with Dr. Ellen Wald and IER’s Alexander Stephens discussed the role of plastics and energy in healthcare.

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