Natural gas is being touted as a "bridge fuel" that can help us move on from coal. But it sure ain't perfect. Here's why.
Natural gas is supposed to be the "bridge fuel" that helps power our refrigerators and flatscreens and factories while we transition from the filthy fossil fuels of the past to the clean, renewable energy of the future. As I've written before, the conventional wisdom, even among the Big Greens and Capitol Hill-connected progressives, is that "natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel." (That, for instance, is a quote from John Podesta, the CEO and President of the Center for American Progress, and the very quintessence of liberal Beltway conventional wisdom.) But with all this attention comes a spotlight. The fuel is facing increasing scrutiny and some pretty ugly revelations have surfaced in the past few months about this alleged "bridge fuel."
First there are the widespread reports of water contamination near hydrofracking sites. Then there was the industry's stubborn and seemingly panicked campaign against Josh Fox's documentary GasLand. Then there was the Cornell study that found that natural gas—from extraction through combustion—was nearly as bad in terms of greenhouse gas emissions as coal or oil.
All of which paints a troubling picture. The best hope for immediately retiring the filthiest coal plants that are causing climatic havoc still isn't a very clean or healthy long-term solution. The best first step is for all Americans to get a good understanding of the risks and rewards of natural gas.
Our friends at One Block Off the Grid have produced an infographic that tackles the risks in a pretty digestible format. Here are a couple of excerpts, but I encourage you to go to their site and check out the whole thing in a much larger, wider format.
Personally, I still would fight to see every coal plant that's over 40 years old immediately be converted to run on natural gas, with an aggressive plan in place to replace that electricity demand load with clean renewables within ten years. To my mind, natural gas is a necessary evil, at best, and one we don't have to settle for for very long.