Fight the Power

Last summer, Professor Anthony R. Ingraffea of Cornell University warned about the false promise of natural gas in an outstanding op-ed for the New York Times. Ingraffea noted that the concept of natural gas being a “bridge fuel” that could put us on a gradual path to a carbon-free future was absurd:

Many concerned about climate change, including President Obama, have embraced hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. In his recent climate speech, the president went so far as to lump gas with renewables as “clean energy.”

As a longtime oil and gas engineer who helped develop shale fracking techniques for the Energy Department, I can assure you that this gas is not “clean.” Because of leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, the gas extracted from shale deposits is not a “bridge” to a renewable energy future — it’s a gangplank to more warming and away from clean energy investments.

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it doesn’t last nearly as long in the atmosphere. Still, over a 20-year period, one pound of it traps as much heat as at least 72 pounds of carbon dioxide. Its potency declines, but even after a century, it is at least 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. When burned, natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, but methane leakage eviscerates this advantage because of its heat-trapping power.

Sadly, too many folks in the political class have decided to go all-in on natural gas, despite its obvious risks to the climate. It’s nice to see that those who actually care about future generations are actually doing something about that.

The fracking fetish in the United States is out of control, and it’s a relief to see Bill Cosby join the ranks of those raising concerns about the consequences of our natural gas dependency. After all, can’t we do better? When even T. Boone Pickens can’t argue with a straight face that fracking isn’t harmful, and when a fracking ban is seriously being considered deep in the heart of Texas, isn’t it time to seek alternate energy routes?

Nancy Reagan told Americans to “just say no” to drugs a generation ago. Now, it’s time for Americans to tell Washington to “just say no” to fracking, to tar sands, to power that pollutes. Our craving for the fix of fossil fuels has to end before we’re all found lying in the gutter of history.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.