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Richard S. Stein: Is natural gas the best ‘bridge’ energy source before renewables can meet demand?

To the editor:

A proposed natural gas pipeline would run through parts of Hampshire and Franklin counties. There are positive and negative aspects of decisions about this. Most agree that it is essential that we reduce dependence on fossil fuels because of their presumed contribution to greenhouse gas that causes global warming. The pipeline would help facilitate natural gas use, which would be a reason for opposition.

However, abandonment of fossil fuels, including natural gas, accompanied by abandonment of nuclear energy sources, would increase dependence on renewable sources. Are they capable of assuming this role?

A rough estimate is that if we abandon these undesirable energy sources, at present levels of growth, it may take as much as nine years for renewables to be able provide for energy at the present rate of use.

We must consider what to do during this period. One desirable approach is to use less energy. My guess is that we may be able to reduce consumption by as much as 50 percent.

More rapid development of renewables requires more funding which should be fostered, but my guess is that we may have to make do with a “bridge” source for several years.

The most likely one is natural gas, which is a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide when burned, but a better one than coal or oil in that it is less polluting. While natural gas is available in our area and cheaper than other fossils, demand for a limited supply keeps increasing, resulting in an increase in cost so that it will become less competitive.

Can we meet the demand for natural gas in our area? The proponents of the New England pipeline contend we cannot. If a pipeline proves necessary, its scale should be minimized and it should be well-regulated to avoid atmospheric pollution from leaked methane. If this is gas from fracking, regulations should avoid a harmful environmental impact.

In any case, the pipeline will cost money and will compete with the need to develop renewable energy sources. This must be considered in achieving the best balance.

Richard S. Stein


The writer is the Goessmann Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Legacy Comments2

Fracking is a public health issue, and in some areas, a public health crisis. You have to look at the whole industry - natural gas is actually dirtier than coal, some experts are now saying. Professor Ingraffea conducted a study 3 yrs ago that showed an immense amount of unburned methane being released in the air - 3.5 to 8% of gas in a well. A new study being published soon studied that fracking fields in PA. 1 out of every 20 wells is leaking into the groundwater aquifers in PA - 100's of people have lost the use of their well water. Millions of gallons of flowback is being put into injection wells (which have leaked) and also open pits, which also have leaked. In some fracking areas, air, soil and water contamination is so bad that it is literally killing people and livestock. For every 1 foot of well dug, there is 1.2 buckets of waste (solid waster with toxic chemicals and radiation) that is being dumped as fertilizer on land. Fracking for gas is killing this nation.

Back to the drawing board, please. The economic reality is that investing in a "bridge energy source" would virtually guarantee it's continued existence long after it's paid off. In this case, any analysis of natural gas must consider not only its impact on the environment, but its negative impact on human health.

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