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Is Natural Gas' 10-Year Low Impacting Renewable Energy Solutions?


hydraulic fracturingNatural gas prices recently reached 10-year lows.  The latest discoveries and drilling methods have greatly increased supply and many people see this as a good thing.  But is it?

Yes, natural gas is cleaner than coal. And yes, it is an abundant resource in the United States.  But, as we are repeatedly being exposed to television commercials that would like to make us believe that natural gas is a clean and safe solution for our energy needs, more information about this energy source needs to be examined.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas. Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground (particularly groundwater) or when waste fluids are handled and sometimes spilled on the surface.

Hydraulic fracturing contaminated ground water and natural gas/methane leaks are real, and they are very scary problems that in my opinion do not get the attention they should.  I am all for any and all approaches to solving our energy needs going forward and since mass scale use of solar, wind and geothermal are too far off we cannot ignore all possible solutions, but we need to be looking at natural gas as a bridge fuel to serve immediate and short-term energy needs.  Our long term energy needs must incorporate mostly renewable sources in order to protect our environment.

Deep sea drilling for natural gas also comes with substantial risks to the environment.  Right now in the North Sea there is a French drilling rig platform that is spilling around 7 million cubic feet of natural gas/methane per day into the atmosphere.  Since you can't see or smell it and there are no pictures of pathetic oil soaked animals, it is barely getting coverage in the media.  But it a real environmental disaster and they say it could go on for months.  Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and as more and more natural gas is pumped out of the earth, spills like this are likely to happen.

With increased spills and groundwater concerns from fracking, I question if there is any environmental benefit to this major shift towards harvesting and burning natural gas.  Wouldn't the money spent on natural gas exploration and mining be better spent on further development of solar energy, wind power, geothermal, energy storage and energy efficiency?