I have recently been visiting a blog published by the American Gas Association. It is both a learning experience and a bit of Sun Tzu motivated research. It is obvious from the blog posts that the utility segment of the natural gas industry wants to take advantage of concern about climate change and CO2 emissions as a selling point for its product. The writers on truebluenaturalgas.org use phrases like “cleanest fossil fuel” and “half of the CO2 emissions of coal” as part of their effort to position natural gas as a bridge fuel to a distant vision (I call it a mirage) of a future powered only by “clean, renewable energy.”
I do not want to give the wrong impression. I agree that properly handled natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal or oil, and I can do the math to recognize that the current price of gas on an energy content basis is only about 1/3 of the price of oil. As a marketer, I understand the gas industry’s effort to emphasize the positive aspects of their product while ignoring the role of “clean natural gas” in the immediate deaths of at least 46 Americans during the first four months of 2010 in well documented accidents.
Aside:Here are the accidents that I include in my number, but you might know of more.
- Six construction workers at the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, CT on February 7, 2010 as a result of a natural gas explosion during a pipe purging evolution.
- Twenty-nine coal mine workers at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch in Montcoal, WV in a methane (aka natural gas) explosion.
- Eleven oil rig workers on the Deepwater Horizon during an explosion and fire caused by high pressure natural gas breaking through barriers and filling the drilling platform with an explosive mixture of fuel that was then ignited.
6 + 29 + 11 = 46. Those tragedies together, all of which have happened during the first four months of 2010, caused almost exactly the same number of deaths as the explosion and fire at Chernobyl, which happened more than 24 years ago. Which ones do you think are most commonly remembered and most often used as a reason not to pursue an energy source that can dramatically reduce CO2 emissions? (Here is the total from Chernobyl as of 2004 “Of these (the on site workers), 28 died in the first three months and another 19 died in 1987-2004 of various causes not necessarily associated with radiation exposure.”)
28 + 19 = 47 – that is just one more than the 46 killed immediately by natural gas explosions in the eastern half of the United States in three accidents during a three month period (February – April) this year, AND the Chernobyl total took 17 years to accumulate.
Woops – I almost lost track of why I started this post.
Based on the marketing messages coming from the natural gas industry, it appears that they accept the need to take action now to try to reduce the amount of CO2 that humans are dumping into the atmosphere. The gas industry does not believe that the sky is falling. They also do not believe that we should take such drastic action that it will cause even greater harm by destroying the energy-based economy that provides humans with a chance at living a prosperous life that does not require constant physical labor. However, it is pretty clear that the American Gas Association is concerned and wants others to share its concern enough to start taking some important steps in the right direction – like buying more natural gas instead of coal or oil.
A post on truebluenaturalgas.org titled Climate Change Still Matters, expressed a bit of disappointment that Americans have been distracted from deep concern about taking actions to reduce CO2 emissions. That post attracted a comment that I thought deserved a response. In his comment, Mark is parroting a message that I have seen in numerous internet discussions. It is a meme that is going around, possibly with some external encouragement.
Mark – You are correct that American’s don’t have attention on the issue of climate change. This is not troubling at all. This is just showing that people are catching on to the “theories” of what is going to happen and what is causing it. He who yells the loudest gets the most attention. And we have some “experts” that are making lots of noise to be able to protect their special interests, including Chicken Little Al Gore who stands to make a fortune on the sky falling.
Let us just hope that the US does not rush headlong into anything that benefits a few at the expense of the many.
My understanding of the situation is a bit different, so I published the following response.
Rod Adams – @Mark – Though I agree with your description of Al Gore as a profiteer on the issue of reducing carbon combustion waste products directly into our shared atmosphere without any waste dumping fee, I challenge you to put on your critical thinking cap.
Don’t you think there is at least a “remote” possibility that the very loud response to the contents of a few stolen emails between scientists has an economic motive as well? How much money will controlling CO2 emissions cost ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, Peabody Coal, Anadarko, Saudi Aramco, Petrobras, Total, Eni, Massey Energy and dozens of other already wealthy and powerful fossil fuel pushers?
Isn’t there just a tiny chance that they have paid what might be an army of skilled PR people to spin this message in an attempt to influence public opinion against any efforts to put a price on dumping their waste? After all, these are companies who have spent billions over many decades trying to convince us all that they are Beyond Petroleum, that their product puts a “Tiger in your Tank”, that their reformulated gasoline makes your engine run cleaner, and that blowing up mountains is just done so we can have cheap coal to plug our extension cords into.
Give me a break. Believing that the thousands of scientific reports built up over a 50-year period of inquiry were motivated by Al Gore’s greed requires a pretty big suspension of disbelief. Believing that Big Coal and Big Oil are not spending money to convince the public that the scientists were all wrong so they can be allowed to continue dumping waste for free would require an even greater effort in self-delusion.
The sky may not be falling, but it is getting a bit more full of CO2 every year. On a local level, the damage done by our continued addiction to hydrocarbon combustion is even more obvious to anyone who has a sense of smell and can see smoke.
We have a better, cheaper, more abundant alternative to most large scale uses of combustion – it is called fission. We have known about the basic physical process for that substitute for just a bit longer than 60 years, yet the technology to exploit that process has already captured a significant share of the commercial energy market. I believe the only reason that fission has not pushed even more fossil fuel out of the market is the fact that the established fossil fuel interests have worked very hard to influence public opinion against the formidable competition of abundant, emission free energy.