Tuesday, March 18, 2014

There's Nothing Natural About "Natural" Gas

You have to hand it to the marketing folks at the energy companies. They really understand the power of words, and how to manipulate public opinion by attaching positive-sounding adjectives to dirty old industries.

The phrase "Clean Coal" comes to mind. How did coal get clean? you might ask. Well, it didn't. There is no new technology, no magical discovery that has made coal a clean fuel. Someone at an ad agency just wrote those words down on a yellow pad during a meeting one day, and before long, it became the mantra of the beleaguered (and still dirty) coal industry.

"Natural Gas" is another one. The gas coming up out of the ground today is no more natural than oil or coal. It just sounds better than plain old "gas." And much better than "methane," which is what it really is, technically. 

The word "natural" conjures up images of wheat fields swaying in the wind, bucolic mountain streams and clear blue skies. It taps into the subconscious, encouraging us to think of this gas as special - and therefore better than other types of fuel. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let's be honest about it: the extraction of natural gas is a dirty, polluting, dangerous, climate-changing but enormously profitable enterprise that is making a few people very rich while it wreaks havoc on our environment and the health of our citizens. It is poisoning our air and water, leaving a toxic, radioactive legacy that will burden hundreds of future generations. How is any of that natural?

America's gas boom has nothing to do with energy independence. It has nothing to do with addressing climate change or lowering energy costs. It has everything to do with Wall Street, with speculators, with political payoffs and with profits for gas companies, who are hoping to cash in quick before the public wakes up and understands that something very unnatural is going on.

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