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Guest editorial

Sarah Cooper Klingenstein

Natural gas is not the panacea some would call it.

"American energy independence" and "Drill, baby, drill" have been calls to action since September 11th. Now there’s a domestic boom in natural gas and you’d think it was a dream come true. It’s cheaper and much cleaner than oil or coal. It’s abundant, right under the ground in over 35 states. Maybe we can be free of Middle East oil, even export it – and it creates jobs. What’s not to like?

That was the message from the June 26th guest editorialist, Jon Haubert, of the natural gas trade group, Western Energy Alliance. My reaction? Things are not always as simple as they appear. And I’ve been doing a little reading on the subject.

Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, which we need to move away from as quickly as possible. While it may be cleaner, it is still a pollutant, it contributes to climate change, and counting on it to meet our energy and environmental needs is short-sighted. Fracking, the process by which most natural gas is obtained, is being found to pollute the air and the ground water. There’s much more, including fracking’s intensive water use (especially concerning in our dry West) and the significant danger of methane leakage. All this with little regulation. It all cries out for more oversight and more study. While the representative for the natural gas industry encouraged readers to demand that even more federal lands to be opened for drilling, I would say, "Hold on a minute!"

As a trade group for the natural gas industry, the Western Energy Alliance would dismiss the value of wind and solar energy. But many more independent thinkers believe that renewable energy, including, but certainly not limited to, current solar and wind technologies, must be the answer. President Obama, in his comprehensive speech on climate change on June 25, added his voice to a growing world-wide vision of a fossil-fuel-free world. "Natural gas is the transition fuel that can power our economy even as our businesses work to develop and deploy the technology required for an even cleaner energy economy of the future." He called natural gas an important power source in "the medium term."

So, let’s make sure that natural gas is drilled, transported and burned as safely as possible, in the short term. But let’s not be lulled into thinking that this "transition" or "bridge" fuel is the key to our energy future.


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