The natural gas industry is booming. In the last decade, new technology that allows energy companies to extract natural gas from shale has made natural gas electricity 70% less expensive, so naturally people are enthusiastic. However, many environmentalists strongly oppose the methods of extracting natural gas, a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Defenders say that natural gas is a much better alternative to coal, and since solar and wind are not ready to topple coal, environmentalists should be more accepting. As both sides are extremely passionate, it is easy for misinformation to get thrown around.
Fracking involves pumping a slurry of water, chemicals and sand into the gas reserves to create pressure to crack shale stone that releases gas reserves. Anti-fracking groups emphasize the carcinogenic chemicals that can be used for fracking, although many of the chemicals used are also commonly found in food, things like guar gum and citric acid. Environmentalists claim that fracking has damaged drinking water and caused health and climate hazards in nearby communities. It also is still a fossil fuel, meaning it is considered nonrenewable, and extracting it definitely harms the local environment where it is harvested.
Complications about natural gas enter the debate when it is compared to its main competitor: coal. Soot from coal power is considered the number two source of carbon emissions, and causes hundreds of thousands of premature deaths. Coal mining is also very dangerous and even more harmful to local environments. Since the growth of natural gas, coal power has been reduced significantly, and over 150 planned coal power plants have been cancelled. Gas emissions are half of coal emissions, and calorie for calorie natural gas is more efficient. Further, a study showed that only one in two hundred water wells were effected by fracking.
Still, there is reason for concern and environmentalists should push for heavy regulation of fracking in order to keep the environment safe. Also, Americans should be mindful that natural gas cannot be a permanent solution. Gas is not renewable or carbon neutral, the way solar or wind could be. Overall, natural gas might be a better alternative to a world that currently relies on coal for more than a third of its power, but plans to phase out gas in favor of renewables should be in place.