If you have ever attended a green movement fair… or shop at community co-ops… or once considered seeking an appraisal to find out what it would cost to retrofit your heating system for geothermal, you probably don’t question or even think much about your “alternative energy” orientation. Likewise for if you believe that global warming is a liberal hoax perpetrated by a singular media entity dominated by Jon Stewart.
There is a “spectrum” of stances and policy ideas when it comes to environmental sustainability because it is a vast and interconnected series of complex and not entirely understood issues, but very few people, when solicited for their opinion, would check the “gray area” box. Which might explain why few people in favor of or against alternative energy find themselves having any opinion on natural gas.
Natural gas doesn’t meet the exciting and often controversial “green” qualifications that draw the attention and emotional arousal of the “Stewards of the Planet” set. It’s not exactly new, it’s certainly not infinite in supply, and its location and extraction method are geographically, politically, and eerily similar to the perceived enemy: oil.
But is it a viable source of energy over the long haul? Or should we only consider it interstitially to help us make the long, contentious departure from petroleum to that “exciting and controversial alternative” without compromising the integrity of the switch?
Natural gas has some advantages over many eco-friendly sources. The infrastructure to use it is already in place and requires no expensive modifications. And we don’t need to go looking for it outside of our own backyard. With current drilling technology, our own home-soil reservoirs could last us 50 to 90 years (and longer as we find more efficient methods to tap otherwise unexplored pools).
And extracting it has never been more safe. Natural gas deposits are found in rock formations deep below the Earth’s surface, and the most common extraction method, hydraulic fracturing (typically referred to as “fracking”), creates fissures in those layers using pressurized water and certain chemicals that break down the formations, releasing gas into a large wellbore. The EPA, as well as the Ground Water Protection Council, conducted separate public-health studies, both of which concluded that fracking does not pose any groundwater contamination threats since the deposits are generally thousands of feet below the water wells and aquifers that supply safe, potable drinking water.
Using our own gas reserves has many other implied benefits as well. We boost our national and regional economies when we cease importing oil and start creating industries around our own natural resources. And relying on our own energy puts a buffer between us and the bumpy, volatile world energy market.
But some questions remain unanswered and unanswerable as of yet. How long can we depend on our limited natural gas supply? Will relying too heavily on natural gas buy us time to find other alternative energies? Or will we end up using it as a crutch with which to procrastinate? Will federal monies for natural gas exploration shortchange R & D for other energy industries? What you think?