Natural Gas Pros And Cons: Is It A Safe And Viable Energy Source For America? (PHOTOS)
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Solution for energy independence? Dangerous and sickening? Bridge to a low carbon economy? Impractical?
The argument rages on natural gas and whether it can be part of the United States' green economy. Perhaps we don't even have a choice in the matter.
Check out the pros and cons of using natural gas to heat our homes, light our stoves, and even power our cars. And then come back for the live debate between an industry representative and environmental luminary on November 17th at 11AM EST so you can decide for yourself.
Con: It Emits Carbon When Burned
Natural gas isn’t completely different from oil or coal – it is still a fossil fuel, <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-natural-gas-works.html#enviroimpacts" target="_hplink">emitting carbon and nitrogen oxides </a>(NOx) when it is burned and contributing to climate change and smog.
Pro: It’s The Cleanest Burning Fossil Fuel
Compared to coal (even “clean coal”) and oil, natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, emitting half the amount of carbon compared to burning coal. Scientists and policy makers see it as a “<a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=natural-gas-could-serve-as-bridge-fuel-to-low-carbon-future" target="_hplink">bridge</a>” to a low-carbon economy. Pictured: Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon speaks at the opening of a compressed natural gas filling station.
Pro: Some Carbon Could Be Removed
A <a href="http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2010/11/08/process_removes_carbon_yielding_cleaner_natural_gas/" target="_hplink">new process </a>could remove carbon from natural gas before it is burned, reducing emissions by as much as 40 percent. The by-product, carbon black, can be used in printer inks, tires, and other products. Atlantic Hydrogen Inc. of Fredericton, New Brunswick has partnered with the utility Nation Grid and is considering building a pilot plant.
Con: It Contaminates Local Water In A Scary Way
The biggest reason for natural gas’s prominence in the news as of late is the controversial extraction process. Called fracking, it forces chemicals, sand and water down into the ground to fracture the shale and allow natural gas to flow freely. The documentary <a href="http://gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking" target="_hplink">Gasland</a> showcases the alleged consequences, with local water <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/06/mark-and-linda-wilfong-we_n_705011.html" target="_hplink">catching fire</a> right out of the tap. People across the country near fracking operations are <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104565793" target="_hplink">reporting</a> rashes from taking showers in the water, and livestock that won’t drink it, among other complaints. The EPA recently <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/09/epa-halliburton-subpoenae_n_781045.html" target="_hplink">subpoenaed Halliburton</a> to find out what chemicals are used in Fracking.
Pro: It’s Abundant In The United States
Unlike oil, which has to largely be imported, gas is <a href="http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/10/15/1762520/sudden-abundance-of-natural-gas.html" target="_hplink">abundantly available</a>; especially since the full potential of <a href="http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/46288.html" target="_hplink">Marcellus Shale</a>, a formation of shale extending from Ohio and West Virginia up to Pennsylvania and New York, has been discovered. It promises to bring the U.S. closer to energy independence.
Con: Its Extraction Damages The Immediate Surroundings
<a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-natural-gas-works.html#enviroimpacts" target="_hplink">In order to get at</a> natural gas, land must be cleared and roads built for access to the well. Often wells are drilled in remote areas, requiring extensive infrastructure from scratch. Traffic to the well causes noise, dust, and pollutants.
Pro: It Has A Lot Of Potential Uses
Its most prevalent use is for generation electricity, but natural gas also <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-natural-gas-works.html#usesofng" target="_hplink">can be used </a>to heat homes and fuel ovens, and in industrial uses like making nitrogen fertilizer. It is also being explored as an <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/business/energy-environment/14boone.html " target="_hplink">alternative fuel</a> for automobiles.
Con: Prices Are Volatile
Natural gas has been caught in a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/info/natural-gas/" target="_hplink">cycle of boom and bust</a>, as investors have grown excited about new drilling technology that made deeper reserves available, flooded the market with gas, and caused a collapse in prices. With the added volatility of oil, which affects the attractiveness of natural gas as an alternative, it’s hard to ever know for sure whether it is a good investment.
Pro: The Infrastructure Is Already In Place
Unlike wind power, charging stations for electric cars, and smart grids, the infrastructure for distributing natural gas is <a href="http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2010/11/08/process_removes_carbon_yielding_cleaner_natural_gas/" target="_hplink">already in place</a>. A network of pipelines <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-natural-gas-works.html#naturalgasprocessing" target="_hplink">extends </a>across the US and continues to expand.