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June 25, 2013

Correct Your Course on Natural Gas, Mr. President

Fracking-rig

By Deb Nardone, Beyond Natural Gas Campaign Director

Today President Obama took several important steps down the trail towards addressing climate disruption. But when it comes to natural gas, the president is taking the wrong path.

The president was exactly right when he said no single step can reverse the impacts of climate change. The scale of the challenge, and the duty to our children and grandchildren, will require multiple steps, all at the same time, to urgently address the problem.

We must take these steps immediately, for our own health and for the sake of future generations. Coordinating our steps to reduce greenhouse gas pollution will require great political will and must include reductions in the use of all fossil fuels. 

The president’s comments today about the dirty Keystone XL pipeline show that he is serious about using climate impact as his yardstick for making high-profile energy decisions. We know that natural gas is a dirty, dangerous fuel that is bad for the climate. Every day the evidence of this becomes clearer. We look forward to a day when the administration sees fracked gas for what it is: a dirty, dangerous fossil fuel of the past and a threat to public health. The same yardstick for KXL must also be used with fracked gas.  

A Presidential Climate Action Plan that doubles down on clean energy cannot also continue our reliance on natural gas. Deepening investments in natural gas will hamper, not assist, transforming our energy system and tackling the daunting climate task ahead. 

Instead of looking below our feet for more oil, coal, and natural gas, it is time to set our sights above ground for wind, solar, and energy efficiency. This is the only way to keep climate-changing gases out of our atmosphere. Protecting our health and environment must be a higher priority than the profit-seeking interests of the natural gas industry.

Obama’s climate legacy is taking shape and is building momentum. Science and research clearly show that natural gas is a threat to our climate, our water and air, and our health. Yet the drilling boom has brought drilling and fracking into the backyards of too many communities that are not equipped to handle this dangerous industrial gas development and its consequences.

We urge President Obama to rethink the role of natural gas. It’s a fuel of the past, a threat to our communities and our health. It’s clearly not a climate solution. 

The President’s Climate Plan

Natural Gas is Not a Climate Solution
The president’s plan to promote fuel-switching from coal to gas for electricity production is a no-win situation for our communities being fracked or for our climate. Greenhouse gas levels are at record highs. Merely slowing the rate at which we emit greenhouse gases will not meaningfully stabilize our climate.  

Best available science shows that even with complete control and capture of methane during production and transmission, continued reliance on natural gas puts us on a trajectory towards climate disaster. The IEA’s “Golden Age” report shows that coal-to-gas switching through to 2035 puts us on an untenable climate path with a mean increase of 3.5 degree Celsius by 2060.   It’s clear that natural gas is not a climate solution; it is a trail that leads us on a path to climate destruction. It’s not a transition fuel or a bridge –- it’s a gangplank to a much warmer planet. 

Export Clean Energy Innovation, Not More Fossil Fuels
The export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) would pose even greater risk to our climate. Even if just a few of the 24 proposed LNG export terminals were authorized, we would see a significant expansion of fracking, causing substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, the administration can still prevent this harm by rejecting those LNG export proposals. If it makes this decision using climate impact as a yardstick, that is exactly what it will do.

Significant amounts of methane leak during production and transmission of natural gas. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas -- 72 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period, significantly adding to our climate crisis. In addition, the massive amount of energy required to liquefy and transport natural gas makes LNG the most carbon-intensive form of natural gas on a life-cycle basis. LNG exports thus risk worsening climate change. For all these reasons, exporting even a fraction of the gas proposed for export could seriously harm American communities and the environment.

Economically as well, exporting LNG comes with significant risks. Natural gas prices are expected to rise as demand increases, hitting record levels right as LNG export terminals come online, pushing the price up even further. Those price hikes harm tens of millions of Americans. We call on the Obama administration to thoroughly study the economic and environmental aspects of these exports. 

Developing a global market for U.S. gas is premature. We must have an open and informed national conversation to determine whether exports are truly in the public interest. We must fully understand the economic, environmental, and health impacts that increased fracking will have on our communities and our economy. Deciding whether and how to move forward with LNG exports is among the most pressing environmental and energy policy decisions facing the nation. Let’s not do this blindly.

Unfortunately, a set of free trade pacts the Obama administration is actively promoting -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the US-EU free trade pact -- could require the United States to automatically approve all exports of U.S. fracked gas to countries in the European Union and the Asia Pacific. It is critical that our trade policy support strong climate action -- not multinational corporations who want to ship natural gas overseas, threatening our climate in the process.

* * * * *

The President’s commitment to tackling climate change is essential, yet there’s so much more to do. We must join together and demand that the oil and gas industry be held accountable for their pollution. We must close the federal exemptions the industry enjoys. We must prevent the exporting of LNG, whose climate footprint will significantly add to climate disruption. We must not allow free trade agreements drive rampant gas production in communities already affected by water and air contamination. 

We must usher in truly clean, renewable energy. We must  demand reduction of global consumptions of dirty dangerous fossil fuels including natural gas. Lace up your boots Mr. President, we must start now. 

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