Naively, I originally believed that green energy proponents would welcome shale gas as an ally in replacing coal. It turns out that green energy proponents and the American coal lobby are both against competition from natural gas that is cheaper and cleaner than coal. As a result the theory that ‘an enemy of my enemy is a friend’ has made for a Faustian bargain with clean coal believers that society will ultimately regret.
As reported in Le Devoir, The New York Times just ran a story covering Professor Howarth from Cornell University who says coal is cleaner than natural gas. Professor Howarth’s research on clean coal makes Gasland look like a documentary.
Professor Howarth’s research is funded by the Park Foundation, an anti-Marcellus shale development group. This is his third try to make the case that coal is cleaner than natural gas. He withdrew his previous research abstracts on the same subject due to obvious errors in his research.
It is one thing for niche market green energy proponents to say no to shale gas development. However, when you say no to one thing you say yes to something else. “Win at all costs” arguments based on unsubstantiated data and emotions is taking natural gas off the market in places like the St. Lawrence Lowlands and New York. This inevitably leads to promoting the use of more coal, the single largest source of power in North America. Coal, the fuel of the industrial revolution, is currently the fastest growing source of energy in the world and its price is rising steadily in response to worldwide consumer demand.
Natural gas has a green reputation dating from the seventies when smog was so bad in major North American cities that it was causing widespread respiratory problems. Smog has improved but remains a health risk for some. Compared to coal, natural gas has 4,000 times less sulfur dioxide and 5 times less nitrous oxide, the two principal causes of smog and acid rain.
Most environmental observers, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Propublica and Greenpeace acknowledge that on a full cycle basis natural gas also has fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal.
At Questerre, we agree with World Watch that, “it is irresponsible to offer the coal industry more ammunition in its fight to continue U.S. dependence on what is, we remain convinced, the dirtiest fossil fuel.”