EARTHWORKS

A bridge fuel to...where?

Nadia Steinzor's avatar
By Nadia Steinzor

August 25, 2010

Proponents of natural gas as a bridge fuel speak enthusiastically about the need to end our reliance on polluting and insecure energy sources.  But when it comes to figuring out how to get from natural gas to a clean energy economy plans get fuzzy or, worse, hard to find.

Ask an engineer to build a bridge for you, and among the first things she ll want to know: what are the endpoints, and what will it take to get between them?

Proponents of natural gas as a bridge fuel speak enthusiastically about the need to depart from Point A the United States reliance on highly polluting and politically insecure sources of fossil fuels.  All reasonable people can agree to that.

But when it comes to figuring out how to get from natural gas (as well as oil and coal) to Point B an economy based on clean, domestically produced renewable sources plans get fuzzy or, worse, hard to find.

The result: drilling proponents are currently building this bridge haphazardly without concern for where it s ultimately going and how to ensure that it s safe. Most importantly, they re ignoring who s getting hurt in the process.  In other words, they re perpetuating the energy status quo, using old-fashioned blueprints developed by big oil and big coal.

Let s be clear: natural gas, irresponsibly extracted, is NOT a commitment to building a bridge to the clean and safe energy future that is, in fact, possible.

A growing number of communities including those literally on top of the Marcellus, Barnett, and other deep shale formations know this all too well. Under far-too-common practices, extracting gas today means industrializing landscapes and using chemical- and water-intensive technologies that can deplete natural systems and harm human health.

Across the United States, political will remains tepid to provide true and different energy choices. Congress has yet to enact energy legislation that, for example, eliminates big subsidies for oil and gas production, supports the market for renewables and development of a smart grid to transmit energy from solar and wind, creates incentives for conservation, or establishes consistent targets across states. Measures like these are helping reduce dependence on dirty fuels and spur a surge in alternative energy in other countries.

Until our government and energy sector show substantial, concrete interest in such work, it ll be hard to believe that natural gas is anything but another bridge to nowhere. Building a real bridge resting on point A, the bridge span, and point B won t be quick or easy, but it s all the less likely to happen if we give in to the fossil fuel industry s expectation of a free ride.

Right now, New York is faced with a choice: yield to the pressure of irresponsible drilling or take the time necessary to figure out how, and if, natural gas extraction can be done right.  And then do what it takes to build a bridge that lasts, and under which clean waters will continue to flow.

Tagged with: renewables, new york, marcellus shale, hydraulic fracturing, dirty energy, bridge fuel

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