Dirty is the new green

Recent tv ads are touting how green natural gas is, extolling the local production, job creation and environmental friendliness of natural gas. Of course, the big oil producers are not far behind with commercials selling the idea that tar-sands oil from Canada is much better for America than that nasty old crude from Saudi Arabia, with images of friendly Canadian wilderness comparedto the scorching sands of the Arabian Desert. Well, of course, I want my oil fresh from the virgin woods up north – none of that sand-choked oil for me, at least when you put it that way! As long as you can promise me that pristine wilderness will still be pristine when you are done drilling

Natural gas

Exxon has put out an ad on “fracking”, the practice of inserting a mélange of water, salts and toxic substances into a natural gas well, which forces the gases together making it easier to extract. The advertisement states that large quantities of cement, steel and natural rock separate the fracking process from groundwater, strongly implying that nothing could possibly go wrong. The documentary “Gasland” features scenes where individuals are able to light their own water faucets on fire due to the presence of natural gas and other pollutants in their water supplies. Youtube now feature dozens of videos where individuals are able to burn water due to the chemicals that have been introduced to the groundwater through fracking. It should be obvious that it is not a good idea for people to drink anything that smells like a refinery and is combustible.

The natural gas advertisements fail to mention the added problem of disposing of the injected water and chemicals. Water and chemicals injected for the purpose of fracking return to the surface as part of the extraction process and must be disposed of. Until recently, this was not regulated and was commonly dumped on-site or into local streams. The EPA has only  recently  ended this practice.

In addition, 1.6% of all natural gas produced is leaked into the atmosphere. If that does not sound like much, consider that it is equivalent to 50 million cars running for a year, or 20% of all methane released into the atmosphere from human causes every year. That is just leakage – there are still other pollution problems with natural gas.

Burning natural gas at power plants (or anywhere) produces methane, one of the most significant greenhouse gases. Methane is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. There are currently no laws  requiring that natural gas power plants report the amount of greenhouse gases emitted.

The ads being put out by the natural gas industry fail to address, or even mention. the real issues with frackings. Although natural gas may be less polluting than coal or tar-sand oil, it is a long way from being a “green energy” source.

Canadian tar-sand oil

Perhaps even more cynical is the advertising campaign for “ethical oil” from the tar sands of Canada, as part of the Keystone XL project. Tar sands oil is a particularly dirty type of crude oil that must be processed in order to remove the sand from the oil, producing a lot of pollution in the process. In addition, the Canadian tar sand oil would be piped across America, including the Ogallala aquifer which supplies the middle of the country with much of its water supply. Even small leaks in the pipelines could result in the pollution of a key water supply for millions of American citizens, as well as wildlife.

Big oil has responded to these concerns by issuing ads telling us that tar sand oil is the only “ethical” solution,  because Saudi Arabia treats women as second-class citizens. Ethical oil is an astroturf group set up as a front for the oil companies, and has even managed to persuade Oprah Winfrey to endorse the idea. Of course. the rights of women in Saudi Arabia are respected, just as in many other countries around the world, but the concern for this problem skyrocketed when American oil companies saw a burgeoning backlash by environmental groups against their latest proposed pollution of our nation. There is a petition effort to convince Oprah to drop her support for the tar sands pipeline (link: http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/oprah_tar_sands/).

The idea that the US would benefit from the Keystone XL effort in any way is misguided.  The oil from Canada is slated to be turned into diesel for export to Latin America and Europe. The jobs involved would be a relatively small number and short lived. The amount of carbon released by tapping into Canadian tar sand oil has been called “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”  In other words, we have much to lose and little to gain.

The latest media buy in favor of the Canadian tar sands has been appearing on MSNBC, perhaps most jarringly when Rachel and Ed are on. A google search for “MSNBC” and “tar sands” yields few major stories covering the controversy, instead showing a number of pro-business slanted stories. Certainly MSNBC is a business, but this once again shows the problem with American media and its connection to corporate America. That, however, is another story.