“Natural gas could be the most dangerous fuel of all.”
Right now, Washington faces a barrage of new gas proposals: there’s the highly controversial LNG facility in Tacoma, the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery in Kalama, and rumors that Puget Sound Energy wants to convert its Colstrip boilers 3 & 4 to gas. At the same time, Senator Cantwell has introduced a bill that will facilitate further growth of the gas industry (you can still send the email at that last link, but please also call/write urging her to hold a Town Hall on the bill this month). The rush for a gas is part of a nationwide pattern. Across the country, there are currently two hundred new gas plants proposed for construction.
Some say gas is a necessary bridge fuel. But they are dangerously and life-threateningly wrong. Here’s why:
- It’s true that when burned in a new, efficient power plant, gas emits 50% to 60% less carbon dioxide than a typical new coal plant. But that’s only part of the story. Gas production leaks huge amounts of methane–a greenhouse gas that, over a twenty year period, is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Many, many peer-reviewed studies, including this one from the National Academy of Sciences, have found that methane from fracking virtually eliminates any beneficial impacts of gas production.
- In 2014, drilling for oil and gas within the United States released 9.8 million metric tons of methane, or the equivalent of more than 71 coal-fired plants being operated for one year
- Natural gas also leaks when distributed. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports 45 incidents within New Jersey’s natural-gas distribution network alone over the last 20 years — five of which were deadly; in Boston, several studies have found high concentrations of natural gas in the atmosphere, estimating that $90 million worth of natural gas escapes every year from faulty pipes, an expense local utilities pass on to consumers. And 2016, a single broken gas pipe in California resulted in the worst man-made greenhouse gas disaster in history, releasing the equivalent annual emissions of 600,000 cars.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists has found that if the US electricity grid transitions to primarily gas there will be virtually no reduction in emissions as a result, even without any ruptures.
- There are also real concerns around the air and water pollution caused by the gas industry: water contamination from fracking has been documented in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico, to name just a few; and gas development is well known to have devastating impacts on local and regional air quality, including an increase in pollutants known to cause “respiratory symptoms, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.”
- Additionally, investments in new gas infrastructure are not one-time affairs: many new gas power plants need to be operational for decades before they turn a profit. Therefore, building new gas infrastructure commits the U.S. to polluting fossil fuels for decades, dealing a devastating blow to climate stability and environmental justice.
For all of these reasons, Bill McKibben and many others have called natural gas perhaps the most dangerous fuel of all. Nevertheless, politicians such as Governor Inslee and Senator Cantwell are refusing to speak out against the gas industry.
We can have no doubt about it: air pollution, water pollution, climate change, environmental racism, these are the defining qualities of the gas industry. And we must oppose it at every turn.