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Natural gas comes on strong


If natural gas was going to try and pick me up at a bar, the encounter would likely go like this:

Gas: “I’m low-carbon, cute, and widely available.”

Me: “You’re not that cute.”

While natural gas keeps getting play as the “bridge fuel” that will help the United States reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it’s no straightforward task to have this happen in a way that minimizes environmental damage and moves the country toward a cleaner energy future.

I’m thinking about this topic yet again because a recent study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers (which just made headlines in the news section of the journal Nature) projects an increase in natural gas drilling and use as we try to move to a less carbon-intensive energy regime.

Environmental organizations are also jumping on the natural gas bandwagon. Worldwatch Institute recently publicized their analysis paper, The Role of Natural Gas in a Low-Carbon Energy Economy, which gives natural gas its fair share of the low-carbon love.

The Nature news piece quotes one of the MIT study authors, Anthony Meggs (who, as a BP retiree, is perhaps hard to take seriously), on environmental problems: "The environmental risks are manageable but challenging.”

That’s one way to put it. Let’s see: We’ve got polluted wastewater problemslarge scale habitat disturbance, methane leaks from pipelines, and potentially serious health impacts that come along with the use of toxic chemicals in hydraulic fracturing.

Oh, and natural gas only makes a dent in our carbon footprint if it replaces coal-fired power plants that we take offline. (How likely is that?)

So, yeah, natural gas. I’m not denying that you may be cleaner and more available than some of the other fossil fuels at the bar, but – I’m just sayin’ – you’re not that cute.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn is the social media editor at High Country News