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Climate Bridge to Nowhere?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 25, 2011 10:31 PM


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It's the bridge that everyone seems eager to build, from the oil & gas industry and Texas high-roller Slim Pickens to liberal think tanks and brainy MIT experts. Yes, I'm talking about that dreamy natural gas bridge to a "low-carbon future." Hold on a minute, reports Pro Publica, or you might get a serious case of buyer's remorse in a couple of decades:

The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency"”and a growing understanding of the pollution associated with the full "life cycle" of gas production"”is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change.

It's good to see some serious reporting penetrate all the star dust that's been waved around the past few years. And lest our memories are so short that we can't remember the hype over biofuels and some of its unintended consequences, Abrahm Lustgarten's Pro Publica story lays out the potential Let's Make a Deal booby prize for natural gas:

...if it turns out that natural gas offers a more modest improvement over coal and oil, as the new EPA data begin to suggest, then billions of dollars of taxpayer and industry investment in new infrastructure, drilling and planning could be spent for limited gain.

"The problem is you build a gas plant for 40 years. That's a long bridge," said James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the nation's largest power companies. Duke generates more than half of its electricity from coal, but Rogers has also been a vocal proponent of cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Rogers worries that a blind jump to gas could leave the country dependent on yet another fossil resource, without stemming the rate of climate change.

"What if, with revelations around methane emissions, it turns out to be only a 10 or 20 percent reduction of carbon from coal? If that's true," he said, "gas is not the panacea."

Rogers, it turns out, has the best quote in the piece, a bit further down:

In the 60's we put a needle in one arm"”it was called oil. If the shale gas doesn't play out as predicted, and we build a lot of gas plants in this country, and we don't drill offshore, we're going to be putting the needle in the other arm and it's going to be called gas.

If that happens, then a highly touted bridge will become famous for the addiction it prolonged.

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