Natural gas is lauded as a solution to climate change because it's an alternative to coal. There's a huge, international market for it and, for the United States, natural gas is a big, fat money maker. That's how Donald Trump, and his spineless excuse for an Environmental Protection Agency, sees it.
Here in Washington, there are two proposed natural gas facilities slated for development—one in Tacoma, the other in Kalama. Environmentalists aren't exactly thrilled about them. In fact, they're pretty pissed. Natural gas is not the clean, Hail Mary solution to coal it's often marketed as.
First off, there's a shit ton (technical term) of methane in it. Technically, it's nearly all methane, a greenhouse gas that's way more—we're talking 87 times more—effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over 20 years. Scientists have found that the extraction, transportation, and storage of natural gas actually releases more methane leaks into the atmosphere because of malfunctions that official reports, like those from the EPA, don't catch.
Angry Washingtonians asked for supplemental reviews about these proposed facilities. The reports for the Tacoma liquified natural gas (LNG) and the Kalama natural gas-to-methanol refinery don't account for leaked emissions. Consequentially, they downplay the real effects of natural gas on the climate.
"These studies undermine the environmental impacts of fracking," Stephanie Hillman, a campaign representative for the Sierra Club's Dirty Fuels campaign, told The Stranger.
Still, the national narrative and perception of natural gas is a lot different.
From the Texas News Tribune:
American gas production is projected to account for almost 40 percent of the world’s gas growth through 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. Countries like China are buying up tank loads of LNG—natural gas that has been supercooled to liquefy it—to generate power, heat buildings and fuel trucks.
“When it comes to exporting LNG, the United States is open for business,” Mark Menezes, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy and also a former utility industry lobbyist, said, according to the Texas News Tribune.
An Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency ruling recognized that natural gas was harmful and that methane leaked at these facilities. There were rules put in place that required oil and gas companies to monitor these leaks, capture them, and gradually update their technology to mitigate them. These rules, to Trump and his corporate interests, were too burdensome on the companies. They were done away with.
Trump's EPA is allowing these leaks to persist and go underreported. According to a research study from 2015, that's because the EPA doesn't have accurate enough data to account for abnormalities—or, malfunctions—that happen through the extraction, transportation, and storage of natural gas.
That study of natural gas facilities across the U.S. found a "facility-based estimate of 2015 supply chain emissions was around 60 percent higher than the U.S. EPA inventory estimate."
That's an insane difference in numbers!
The study concludes that "natural gas losses are a waste of a limited natural resource (around $2 billion a year), increase global levels of surface ozone pollution, and substantially erode the potential climate benefits of natural gas use."
Not only do these leaks waste a precious $2 billion—$2 BILLION—but, the study finds that all of these leaks combined "roughly equals that from the annual carbon dioxide emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants operating in 2015." So, this venture is wasting money and is just as detrimental as coal—something it is supposed to wean us off of.
These leaks exist on the national level but they also exist on local levels. The second environmental impact study that was done on the proposed Tacoma and Kalama sites were both flawed, according to the Sierra Club.
Those reports are obfuscating facts that facilities like the ones in the works in Tacoma and Kalama are detrimental to the environment. The gas that they will hold is just as dirty as coal and, at least for Kalama, a pipeline will be built that would displace landowners through eminent domain.
The Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County is hosting a public hearing tomorrow, Dec. 13 at the Cowlitz Expo Center in Longview, WA. The Port of Kalama, Cowlitz County, and the Washington Department of Ecology have authority to deny the project.
Stephanie Hillman will be there. She is optimistic that "several hundred people" will be there "giving very strong testimony as to the flaws of this SEIS."
"Whether or not it’s really heard, I don’t know," Hillman said. "In Washington, we are positioned to be a leader on climate change, but not if we lock ourselves with dirty fracked gas. We will miss every mark we set to be true climate leaders."