Just a few years ago, the liberal Pew Center of Global Climate Change, among many environmental groups, was heralding natural gas as a “bridge fuel to a more climate friendly energy supply”—an interim step on the transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar. Now, “progressive” environmental groups demonize natural gas, and shale gas in particular, as a “bridge to nowhere.” What’s the real story behind the flip-flop?
An investigative piece in Ethical Corporation magazine, “Who Blew Up the ‘Bridge to the Future,’” examines the troubling truth behind the turnaround.
(1) Technology: With the discovery around the world of vast reserves of shale gas and advances in fracking technology, natural gas is no longer a diminishing resource. The International Energy Agency estimates there is quarter of a millennium’s worth of cheap shale gas in the world based on current energy consumption. Meanwhile, advances in solar and wind technology have slowed, and they are increasingly seen as fool’s gold from a cost/benefit perspective.
(2) Media and NGO Manipulation: Many media organizations who often work hand in hand with hard Left environmental groups—the usually venerable New York Times comes to mind—have taken on the role of advocates, cherry picking questionable studies to promote an anti-fracking narrative. The anti-shale gas mindset has gotten so pervasive that The New York Time’s public editor has twice taken its own reporters to task for channeling anti-fracking propaganda.
(3) Money: While the NYT runs a front-page exposé of industry support for shale gas exploration and production, it ignores the far more explosive story of the money fueling much of the media coverage and even backing anti-fracking research scientists. The Park Foundation, an environmental philanthropy based in Ithaca, New York and tied to Cornell, has poured more than $6 million over the past two years into supporting groups that only provide one side of the shale gas story.
This soft conspiracy is troubling. Perhaps even more concerning, while a range of independent researchers from across the ideological spectrum have found shale gas to be environmentally safer than coal or oil, one Park funded researcher at Cornell, Robert Howarth, who has no previous research background in this area, reached an opposite conclusion, calling natural gas dirtier than coal or oil. Many media outlets, the NYT’s in particular, have almost exclusively promoted his study and ignored the consensus research (including by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a sharp rebuttal by Howarth’s own colleagues at Cornell.)
The most intriguing question lying ahead is whether politics—the ideological forces lining up against unconventional sources of natural gas—will trump the science. Anti-shale gas advocacy groups are forging bizarre alliances, including with the Russians and the Iranians who thought they were going to corner the gas market in the coming decades.
That won’t change the facts in the ground. Natural gas is no longer the bridge to the future. It IS the future—unless “progressives” kill it.
Jon Entine is Senior Fellow of Health & Risk Communication at George Mason University/STATS, Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and founder of the sustainability consultancy ESG MediaMetrics.