ConocoPhillips vs. Godzilla
Who hasn't seen one of those feel good ads on TV these days, touting the benefits of natural gas like it was the next cold fusion? The one I like best, but which I cannot find on the internet as of yet, shows a group of students after class having one of those ad hoc debates so common in academia these days (though I believe in real life it's more likely to involve a heated discussion of Halo). A couple of students rush into the debate all morally superior ("Big oil! What about the environment!"), getting in the faces of the others who calmly stand back while the opposition digs a deep, deep hole for themselves. And then the other two spring into action like members of some Seal-6 anti-terrorist squad. "Actually, it's cleaner!" says one about, you know, methane, or natural gas as it is commonly known. And don't you love that name, too? Natural gas, 'cause it's "natural." So it must be good for us, right? Of course, cyanide is natural too, but let's move on. So in the this ad (as in many others, here's a typical ad), we are told that natural gas is a wonder, that it is necessary for us to use the natural resources of this country and hey, it's cleaner than oil and coal. Well, is it? Let's not take the gas companies' word for it, after all. True, methane does have less CO2 emissions than coal. Less sulfur too. But the companies stop right there. It is as if some math guy began his lecture by writing on the blackboard (they still have blackboards, don't they? No?)--or white board--some long equation, but got tired and so ended up with something like this:
1+2+3+4+(Oh, forget it!) y=20, for small values of y.And I suppose that all of that is quite true. And quite equally false...for larger values of y. You see, if y contains a larger value, say 10, then the equation is no longer true. And just as we see with math, if we also include a statement such as "Methane is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year period", (this from epa.gov/outreach/), then the full meaning of "clean" becomes less clear. What if we also include a statement about the polluting effects of drilling for methane, or hydrofracking? (For your viewing pleasure, please rent the movie "Gasland," which was up for an Academy Award and probably would have won if it wasn't for those crazy guys stealing our money on Wall St.) We could also say something about all the gas that is leaking through loose fittings. Did you know that the gas industry doesn't care about a gas leak, unless it deems the leak class I, a danger to public safety? Here, from the GPTC (Gas Piping Technology Committee), the "hazardous (Grade 1) leaks be repaired immediately, while "non-hazardous" (Grade 2 and Grade 3) can be allowed to continue for six months or more." [this from the American Energy Coalition citing the GPTC notes.] Be praying that your leak is graded properly. But the real point is that leaks on the whole are not prioritized by any sort of environmental concern. They don't care. Why? Well, it is clean, don't you see? If you label it "clean" then you don't have to spend any money fixing the "problem." It's like they are pouring the stuff in our oceans and streams, you know, like those other fine folks at BP and Exxon. Any industry that pumps unknown chemicals into the ground (which is to say unknown to us but quite well known to them, and which includes: oil, benzene--a carcinogen--and dozens of solvents) where our ground water lies...well, it does seem obvious to me that it cannot be called "clean." Is it "clean-er"? Maybe. Maybe it is cleaner than coal and oil. But isn't that like saying Godzilla is less of a problem than Mothra? They both end up destroying Tokyo. Sure we root for Godzilla, but we don't really know why. Would anyone try to make a pet out of the big guy? Cuddle up with him? Teach him to fetch? That's what ConocoPhillips and their corporate bedfellows are trying to convince us to do with natural gas. My solution? Maybe we could come up with a different name for the stuff: Godzilla Gas!