Is natural gas really the “bridge fuel” that many environmentalists hoped would provide cleaner energy than coal as renewables scale up? This question is particularly salient, as the recent boom in shale gas is leading 2016 to be the first year since 1972 that carbon emissions from natural gas exceeded those of coal. Although the associated decline of coal is certainly welcome, the place “this bridge” actually leads to may not be so salutary. Of course, the local impacts of fracking, such as earthquakes and water contamination, are of growing concern, and so is the methane leakage that weakens the greenhouse gas benefits versus coal. But perhaps most insidiously, cheap, plentiful natural gas has reduced the competitiveness of wind and solar, slowing the clean energy transition as utilities invest elsewhere. And every new pipeline built locks in further extraction. Rather than helping us to cross over to a sustainable future, this cheap fossil fuel energy risks trapping us in an unsustainable status quo.
Bodes well for the future