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No Such Thing as Green Fossil Fuels

Laina Hancock

Halting the release of greenhouse gases needs to be a top priority for everyone, however, we've had the wool pulled over our eyes. Such promises as “clean coal” and the shift to relying on methane, or “natural gas”, touted as stepping stones to cleaner alternatives only give us a false sense of hope. 


The reason? There are no green alternative fossil fuels out there, no matter how you slice it. 


Fossil fuels are so named because they are essentially the unleashing of energy in the form of trapped carbon sequestered millions of years ago, in one form or another, in the fossil record. 


Whether oil, gas, or coal, the burning of these fuels releases more carbon into the atmosphere. We are fast approaching a critical point in our history where we are emitting so much carbon since the industrial revolution that we are speeding up global warming at an unprecedented pace. The release of any atmospheric carbon is only contributing to the problem.

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Methane is especially problematic. Second to carbon dioxide in its prevalence, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas; some estimates put it at 100 times worse than CO2. Although methane only persists in the atmosphere for about a decade, its ability to trap heat more efficiently leaves a legacy long after the decade that molecule spent in the atmosphere, as the heat stored by that molecule is absorbed by the world's oceans


The oceans trap around 90% of the surplus heat caused by the greenhouse effect, and through such things as thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers, sea-level rise is happening rapidly. 

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Further, the fracking process and other unconventional methods to extract methane are hugely problematic. The effluents contain a multitude of known or probable carcinogens, and many compounds in those fluids have yet to be evaluated. 


Pipelines for transportation of the gas pose another set of problems. Right here in Connecticut, a proposed gas line to the new Killingly fracked gas plant will be cutting through wetlands and natural trust lands. Besides destroying much needed green spaces, pipelines leak and explode.


Methane produces less carbon dioxide and particulates when burned but that does not mean it is without concerns. Burning gas within the home releases particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, along with carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide -- all of which reduce air quality both indoors and outdoors. For instance, children living in a home with a gas cooking stove have a startling 42% increased risk of developing asthma. 

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From extraction to combustion, methane use carries with it a host of negative consequences. As some have called it, the gaslighting on natural gas and the selective inattention to the facts by those in power must end. 


There is no such thing as green fossil fuels, and we already have too many fossil fuel burning power plants to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals. 


With more power plants, such as the Killingly fracked gas power plant, it is clear the truth, the data, and the message is not getting out. Fossil fuels like methane are never going to be a solution to climate change. 


Laina Hancock is a Sierra Club member and serves on the Communications Committee for Sierra Club Connecticut.

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