Wall Street Journal Catches On to the Green Campaign Against Natural Gas
Reason told you so a while back, i.e., the environmentalist lobby that had once touted natural gas as the "bridge fuel" to renewable power future had turned against it. Why? Because the renewables they favor can't compete with cheap abundant natural gas. My 2011 column, Natural Gas Flip-Flop, reported:
The national green lobbies initially welcomed shale gas. In 2009, for example, Robert Kennedy Jr., head of the Waterkeeper Alliance, called it "an obvious bridge fuel to the 'new' energy economy." Local environmental activists were not as enthusiastic, arguing that fracking contaminates drinking water and causes other forms of pollution. After a while, some of the national lobbies began to come around to the locals' side. In the words of the journalist Matt Ridley, "it became apparent that shale gas was a competitive threat to renewable energy." Josh Fox, director of the anti–natural gas documentary Gasland, put it bluntly on Kennedy's radio show: "What's really happening here is not a battle between natural gas and coal. What's happening here is a battle between another dirty fossil fuel and renewable energy."
Indeed, natural gas is cheaper than renewable sources of energy, even if you include the costs of carbon capture and sequestration. The EIA's Annual Energy Outlook for 2011 calculates the levelized costs of electric power generation for various fuel sources. (Levelized costs include all capital, operating and maintenance, fuel, and transmission costs for building plants now that would switch on by 2016.) Electricity produced using natural gas in a combined cycle generating plant comes in at $66 per megawatt-hour. By contrast, offshore wind clocks in at $243 per megawatt-hour, photovoltaic at $211, solar thermal at $312, geothermal at $102, and biomass at $113. The only renewable sources that are close to competitive with natural gas are onshore wind at $97 per megawatt-hour and hydroelectric at $86.
Now the Journal has noticed the green flip-flop on gas and is reporting:
…one of the most powerful environmental lobbies, the Sierra Club, is mounting a major campaign to kill the industry.
The battle plan is called "Beyond Natural Gas," and Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune announced the goal in an interview with the National Journal this month: "We're going to be preventing new gas plants from being built wherever we can." The big green lobbying machine has rolled out a new website that says "The natural gas industry is dirty, dangerous and running amok" and that "The closer we look at natural gas, the dirtier it appears; and the less of it we burn, the better off we will be." So the goal is to shut the industry down, not merely to impose higher safety standards.
This is no idle threat. The Sierra Club has deep pockets funded by liberal foundations and knows how to work the media and politicians. The lobby helped to block new nuclear plants for more than 30 years, it has kept much of the U.S. off-limits to oil drilling, and its "Beyond Coal" campaign has all but shut down new coal plants. One of its priorities now will be to make shale gas drilling anathema within the Democratic Party.
The political irony is that not too long ago the Sierra Club and other greens portrayed natural gas as the good fossil fuel. The Sierra Club liked natural gas so much (and vice versa) that from 2007-2010 the group received $26 million in donations from Chesapeake Energy and others in the gas industry, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. Some of that money was for the Beyond Coal campaign.
One reason for this once-mutual affection is that natural gas produces much less carbon emissions than does coal—and the Sierra Club claims to want fewer such emissions…
But now that the hydraulic fracturing and shale revolution has sent gas prices down to $2.50, the lobby fears natural gas will come to dominate U.S. energy production. At that price, the Sierra Club's Valhalla of wind, solar and biofuel power may never be competitive. So the green left has decided it must do everything it can to reduce the supply of gas and keep its price as high as possible.
Go here to read the whole WSJ op/ed.