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Natural Gas Adds To Greenhouse Problem

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In his State of the Union address, President Obama perpetuated a misleading idea -- that natural gas can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.

“We produce more natural gas than ever before -- and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it,” the President said.  “And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.”

Obama implied what others, including the Washington Post editorial board, have said more explicitly:  that a switch from coal to natural gas for electricity production has lowered carbon dioxide emissions and, therefore, has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

In fact, electric power plants have been using gas because it’s cheaper.  Gas production has increased by about 25 percent since 2005, and its price is often less than coal.

While it’s true that burning natural gas emits significantly less carbon dioxide than burning coal, recent studies have found that natural gas may emit more greenhouse gases over its lifecycle because raw methane, a potent greenhouse gas, escapes into the atmosphere during natural gas production and distribution.

Natural gas drilling poses inherent risks to drinking water, air quality and property values.  New York state officials have estimated that if natural gas drilling polluted New York City’s upstate drinking water supply, taxpayers would be forced to spend at least $8 billion to construct a treatment plant to clean up the water – if it could be cleaned up.  With the possible tab that high, we ought to be asking tough questions about whether natural gas is better for the climate – and whether it’s really so cheap.


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