Environmental Flip-flop Over Natural Gas

By Kris FitzPatrick, Staff Editor

It was revealed last month in the New York Times that the Sierra Club secretly accepted $26 million in donations prior to 2010 from Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. (Natural Gas Supply Association). The revelation spurred criticism of the Sierra Club for not disclosing the donation, particularly as the group spoke positively of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future.

The incident reflects uncertainty among environmental groups over how to handle the resurgence of U.S. natural gas production in the last several years. Exhibit A, as explained by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), is the unusual alliance between the Sierra Club and the American Chemistry Council to oppose the export of U.S.-produced natural gas.

For environmental groups, keeping natural gas in the U.S. market offers some huge benefits, in the form of lower carbon and particulate emissions resulting from electric companies using more natural gas and less coal. The groups also have concerns that exports will spur more drilling and hydraulic fracturing, a method they worry contributes to emissions from escaping methane at wells and from pipelines.

On the other hand, low domestic natural gas prices are hindering renewable energy penetration in the U.S. Exporting more natural gas could increase natural gas prices domestically and be a boon to struggling renewables.

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