Quantcast
Popular
iStock

Here's the Dirt That Industry Won't Tell You About 'Clean' Natural Gas​

By Abigail Dillen

Most mornings, I fry an egg on a gas range that I view as essential to achieving sunny-side-up perfection. My mother was a great cook who loathed electric stoves, so I am programmed to believe in the superiority of gas—which is becoming awkward, because my job is all about advancing 100 percent clean energy.

Cooking with gas is not, by itself, a big problem for the climate, but it ties into a larger American romance with gas that could be our undoing. "Natural gas" has a clean and healthy ring to it. But burning gas to heat and power our homes and factories, let alone our vehicles, is no more compatible with slowing climate change and preserving a livable planet than burning "natural" coal or "natural" oil.


I meet many smart, responsible people who are wrongly persuaded that gas represents either our clean energy future or a bridge to it. The natural gas industry has done an excellent job of programming us all to believe in the superiority of its product—and not just for cooking. Let me deprogram a little by countering the most common myths about gas.

Gas is not clean.

Gas drilling and fracking release toxic pollution. Benzene exposure has killed oil and gas workers. Families living near oil and gas developments are reporting cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses including asthma, autoimmune diseases, liver failure and cancer. In Colorado, a recent study found that mothers living near high concentrations of oil and gas wells were 30 percent more likely to give birth to a baby with heart defects. And don't forget: Fracking and drilling also contaminate water with hydrochloric acid and other chemical additives that gas companies are often unwilling to identify.

Gas is not climate friendly.

Gas-fired power plants generate roughly half the carbon dioxide that coal plants do. But that is still too much carbon dioxide. To limit temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, there is widespread agreement that the U.S. and other top-emitting countries must achieve zero or near-zero emissions in the power sector before mid-century. Meanwhile, the methane released when gas is extracted and transported threatens to cause even greater warming than coal or oil.

Exporting liquefied natural gas is not good for the planet.

As China and other countries contend with air pollution from coal plants, there is a new idea that exporting "clean" LNG—natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state so it can be shipped more efficiently—will be a win/win for U.S. producers and consumers abroad. But the pollution footprint of converting and transporting LNG is huge. With advanced power plant technology, the lifecycle emissions of LNG are roughly comparable to coal, and a growing export market will only spur more drilling and fracking when we need to leave the vast majority of our remaining fossil fuel reserves unburned.

Gas is not a necessary evil.

But aren't we stuck with gas, given the variability of renewables such as wind and solar power? No. As the National Renewable Energy Lab stated in 2016, "renewable electricity generation from technologies that are currently available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis." And we can use that clean electricity to replace gas for heating and other uses that the gas industry is aggressively trying to promote right now.

Given the downsides of gas for our health and the climate, why are we rushing headlong to build new gas infrastructure that threatens to delay our transition to genuinely clean energy? The current glut of cheap gas is fueling visions of a manufacturing renaissance at home and energy dominion abroad. But those visions are a dangerous distraction from homegrown renewable energy that can drive a vibrant new economy without sacrificing our future.

Abigail Dillen is the Vice President of Litigation for Climate & Energy based out of Earthjustice's headquarters in San Francisco, California.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Politics
Jess Lundgren / CC BY 2.0

The Trump Administration’s ‘Dishonest’ Attack on Fuel-Economy Standards

By John R. Platt

The Trump administration's plan to freeze fuel-economy standards is "the most spectacular regulatory flip-flop in history," said a retired EPA engineer who helped to develop new the standards under the Obama administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Lizzie Carr traveling down the Hudson River on her stand-up paddleboard. Max Guliani / The Hudson Project

Her Stand-Up Paddleboard Is a Platform for Campaigning Against Plastic Pollution

By Patrick Rogers

Lizzie Carr was navigating a stretch of the Hudson River north of Yonkers, New York, recently when she spotted it—a hunk of plastic so large and out of place that she was momentarily at a loss to describe it.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales. Michael Van Woert, NOAA

Scientists Study Ice Shelf by Listening to Its Changing Sounds

By Marlene Cimons

Researchers monitoring vibrations from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf were flabbergasted not long ago to hear something unexpected—the ice was "singing" to them. "We were stunned by a rich variety of time-varying tones that make up this newly described sort of signal," said Rick Aster, professor of geosciences at Colorado State University, one of the scientists involved in the study.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
DSLRVideo.com / Flicker / CC BY-SA 2.0

'Go Out and Vote' Patagonia Endorses Candidates For First Time in Its History

Outdoor brand Patagonia is endorsing candidates for the first time in its history in an effort to protect the country's at-risk public lands and waters.

The civic-minded retailer is backing two Democrats in two crucial Senate races: the re-election of Sen. Jon Tester of Montana; and Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Desert Bighorn Sheep in Joshua Tree National Park. Kjaergaard / CC BY 3.0

Leaked Trump Administration Memo: Keep Public in Dark About How Endangered Species Decisions Are Made

In a Trump administration memorandum leaked to the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing its staff to withhold, or delay releasing, certain public records about how the Endangered Species Act is carried out. That includes records where the advice of career wildlife scientists may be overridden by political appointees in the Trump administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Disposable diapers add staggering amounts of waste to landfills. Pxhere

Dirty Diapers Could Be Recycled Into Fabrics, Furniture Under P&G Joint Venture

Disposal diapers can take an estimated 500 years to decompose. That means if Henry VIII wore disposables, they'd probably still be around today.

Although throwaway nappies are undoubtedly convenient, these mostly-synthetic items cause never-ending steams of waste that will take centuries to disappear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
The swelling barrier lake after a landslide forced evacuations along the Yarlung Zangbo River. YouTube screenshot / CCTV+

6,000 Evacuated After Tibet Landslide

Six thousand people have been evacuated after a landslide in Tibet Wednesday blocked a river that flows downstream into India, creating a lake that could cause major flooding in the subcontinent once the debris is cleared, The Associated Press reported.

Chinese emergency officials announced the evacuations Thursday. The landslide impacted a village in Menling County, but no one was killed or injured, Chinese officials said.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Pexels

Carbon Capture: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change

By Daniel Ross

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report lays out a rather grim set of observations, predictions and warnings. Perhaps the biggest takeaway? That the world cannot warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5°C) over pre-industrial levels without significant impacts.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!