Massaging the Message

By Joyce Hale

No one likes to think they have been suckered by a snake oil sales pitch. Yet in our collective desire to avoid energy realities, too many Americans have bought into natural gasclaims that should have been questioned from the start. The industry has adopted four simple conceptsthat should be posed as questions rather than accepted as fact. A healthy dose of critical thinking and a bit of fact checking would do wonders to more accurately frame this issue.


Clean?Only during the brief period when natural gas is burned can it be called clean. During its extraction, production, transmission, and waste disposal, natural gas pollution rivals coal for being dirty.Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas,escapes from well sites, processing equipment and pipelines and is far worse than CO2as a greenhouse gas. The extractive process also frees naturally occurring volatile organic compounds, BTEX chemicals, and radio active materials (not to mention the fracking chemicals) to contaminate air and water.


Abundant?Accurate information to develop the best energy plan for our country is vital. Industry estimates for the Marcellus Shale reported 410 trillion cu. ft. of gas reserves. However, after an assessment by the United States Geological Survey, this number was slashed by 80%. “Sweet spots” with higher production rates are developed first within a reserve.Calculations based on these wellsthen overstate the estimated ultimate recovery when assuming production in the remaining reserve will be as good. While this may be accepted as a marketing tactic to lure investors, it is unacceptable when determining the country’s energy future.


Domestic? Amid mergers, bankruptcies, and sales, foreign investors with deep pockets have arrived to purchase leases, pipelines, and other assets. Along with the physical properties, they have bought into fracking technology. What percentage of gas in the U.S. is now owned by foreign interests? Should there be a limit to this sell-off? Are we willing to use our water and land and take on future health, environmental, and national security risks while seeing the profits leave the U.S.?


Affordable?Natural gas may be cheap now but there is no way that the industry can operate without a significant price increase. Plans to increase use in power generating plants, vehicle conversions, and LNG sales to foreign countries will drive prices up. Products like plastics and fertilizers, which use natural gas as a base stock, will also see major price increases. World market pricing will send U.S. production to the highest bidders.

Accepting the natural gas industry’s positiveportrayal not only postpones ending use of fossil fuels, but it diverts needed capital for neededrenewable options. Checking for “truthiness” in the carefully massaged gas claims is a challenge few will take on and therein lies the rub.

Categories: Commentary