As a congressional candidate, I backed T. Boone Pickens’ plan for building a Midwestern corridor of wind-generated electricity with grid improvements to carry its energy nationwide.
The vision also included converting America’s large fleet of public and commercially driven trucks to natural gas. The estimated cost of the project: less than our 2007 cost for imported oil.
Because of global warming, I cautioned that greater dependence on natural gas was not an end-all, but a stopgap measure transitioning from coal, oil and methane to clean alternative energy, a 15- to 20-year project even posthaste.
Marcellus and Utica shale fracking booms now impede that conversion to solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy even as the Keystone XL pipeline threatens to drive up oil consumption, add 121 million tons of new CO2 emissions and further exacerbate climate change.
Dominion and Duke Energy are seeking federal approval for a 550-mile natural gas pipeline to move mid-Atlantic supplies to the Southeast. Meanwhile, a five-state Green Party alliance (Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island) has galvanized opposition to “Algonquin” and “Tennessee” pipelines slated for the Northeast.
Recently disclosed plans suggest gas will eventually be carried to coastal LNG terminals for shipment overseas. Lucrative exportation would add billions to gas companies’ profits, raise prices for U.S. customers in the east and fault China for burning our gas. As long as its methane and less coal, the industry’s and president’s solution to fossil fuel problems is burning more fossil fuels.
Other things being equal, CO2 emissions from natural gas burning can be 50 percent less than coal and 20 to 30 percent less than gasoline, diesel and heating fuel. A large measure of that benefit, however, comes from the way natural gas is burned, ideally in modern combined-cycle turbine plants. Moreover, natural gas is methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20-year spans. The more we transport and use it, the more methane leaks to the atmosphere, the more the planet warms.
Because wells seal poorly, conventional gas extraction and “fracking” are comparable in atmospheric emissions. But shale gas wells are being drilled at staggering clips (more than 510,000 in 2010), each a potential risk to U.S. ground waters and aquifers.
Methane’s “bridge” to our panoply of renewables must be crossed quickly. But the president, two-party politics and shale gas profits are a troll in our path. The Earth, meanwhile, hangs in the balance.