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Natural Gas: The Fuel with a "Dirty Secret"

Critics of natural gas warn that it produces an abundance of the potent greenhouse gas methane. (isakarakus/Wikimedia Commons)
Critics of natural gas warn that it produces an abundance of the potent greenhouse gas methane. (isakarakus/Wikimedia Commons)
April 11, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. - Natural gas has been hailed as a potential "bridge fuel" for the country as it transitions from coal and oil to renewable energy. However, a spokeswoman for a Northwest environmental research group says the news media often overlooks natural gas's dirty secret.

Natural gas often is described as "burning cleaner than coal or oil," said Anna Fahey, director of strategic communications for the Sightline Institute. While it's true that natural gas releases half as much carbon dioxide as coal at combustion and far less particulate matter than coal or oil, Fahey said the bigger issue is methane, which traps 86 times as much heat in the atmosphere as does carbon dioxide.

"The problem is that you don't even have to burn natural gas," she said. "It doesn't need to be combusted to be a potent greenhouse gas, because the bulk of it is methane, and methane leaks at every stage of the gas's life."

Fahey cited a recent Associated Press story about a proposed liquefied natural-gas pipeline and export facility at Jordan Cove on the southern Oregon coast that described natural gas as "cleaner burning and more efficient." However, it didn't include the effects of methane. She also noted that 70 percent of natural gas in the United States is fracked.

Fahey said money spent on infrastructure such as the Jordan Cove pipeline could lock the nation into decades of using natural gas, when that money could be used to build infrastructure for clean fuel sources such as wind or solar.

"Natural gas, or what we like to call fracked methane gas now, is actually stalling progress on the real fuels of the future and the ones that are going to transition us off fossil fuels." she said.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the gas industry was responsible for more emissions than the coal industry for the first time last year.

An article by Fahey is online at sightline.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR