I commute into Washington, DC every day of the work week. It is nearly impossible to be in the city for more than a few minutes at a time without a close call with a bus displaying the marketing slogan “Powered by Clean Natural Gas” in letters large enough to stretch from one end of the bus to the other. Whenever I see those buses, I want to ask the decision makers that bought them if they would be willing to suck on a tailpipe.
I thought about those buses today when I came across an article on the other – from an American point of view – ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) titled Poisonous mud wreaks havoc on Java. It seems that a natural gas drilling operation has gone horribly wrong and caused a disaster that has displaced more than 8,000 islanders and caused a number of them to become ill from exposure to toxic fumes from mud that is erupting from an out of control gas well.
This incident also brings to mind the infamous (but nearly forgotten in the western press) accident that took place in the Chongping region of China on December 23, 2003. That accident, described in Gas well blowout kills at least 191 actually ended up killing more than 250 people and putting more than 9,000 people into the hospital after extremely painful exposure to hydrogen sulfide that was released from the well.
Bottom line – I think that the slogan “Clean natural gas” should be more accurately be changed to “potentially deadly natural gas”. It is, after all, statistically far more deadly than radioactive waste in terms of actual deaths. Sure, it burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels, but it is certainly not completely benign.