In establishing natural gas and fracking as the clean alternative to coal and the “bridge” to a low-carbon future, the natural gas industry has relied on PR to smooth its way. While the most visible anti-fracking campaigns remain regional and local, tied to the politics of exploding water and poisoned wells, gas companies and lobbyists are moving to globalize the debate. Their message: rational environmentalists should embrace gas, because gas will save us from climate change.
That message was stimulated by 99 words in a 492-word press release from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Though it was contradicted in the same week by an IEA spokesperson and a much longer IEA report, the message spread — from the conservative press and gas lobbyists to the halls of government. Now, it’s simply taken as fact.
In reality, the environmental benefits of gas are still uncertain.
Without counting the emissions released during extraction, gas power stations produce half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides compared to a coal-fired plant, according to America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But there is a caveat. Natural gas is composed of mainly methane, which has 21 times greater warming impact than carbon dioxide on climate change over a 100-year period, the EPA says. Gas leaks, or “fugitive emissions,” are therefore a serious issue.