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February 1, 2010 – It’s been a cold January this time around. Cincinnati never gets all that much snow, and that’s holding true this year, too. Cincy is, however, a terribly gloomy place during the winter – I really don’t think Seattle has got us beat by much – and it’s easy to see there are lots of us who are badly in need of increased sunshine!
When yours truly goes out for a walk in 25-degree weather just to inhale a little fresh air and get an occasional peak at the sun, it’s bad.

So what’s the topic du jour? I was thinking we’d take a close look at natural gas, with
the help of the Worldwatch Institute and the American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF). On December 12, Worldwatch, the ACSF, and the UN Foundation sponsored a forum at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Entitled “Natural Gas, Renewables and Efficiency: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy,” the audience attending the forum listened to a distinguished panel of speakers. Aubrey McClendon, Board Chairman of Chesapeake Energy Corporation and the ACSF; Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute; Ian Smale of British Petroleum, U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth, who is President of the UN Foundation; and Vello Kuuskraa, President of Advanced Resources International.

Noteworthy comments made by panel members included this remark by Sen. Wirth: “Now that economically accessible reserves in the U.S. have grown by more than 60 percent, it is important to rethink the role of natural gas in climate and energy policy. The dramatic new discoveries and reserves are almost a gift, giving us a chance to develop a faster and smoother transition toward a low-carbon economy.”

At this point, I find myself squirming in my chair. Why do I feel a sense of dis-ease about panel members and their enthusiasm for natural gas? Could it be because some of their futures depend upon its new-found marketability? When senators start speaking of our natural resources as “gifts,” why do my antennae start wiggling frantically? To not be skeptical would seem practically irresponsible!

Yet the article (Copenhagen Forum Sees Natural Gas as Key to Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy, retrieved from www.worldwatch.org on 1/26/10) goes on to state that increased availability of natural gas may afford us the opportunity to “accelerate the decarbonization of energy supplies by substituting natural gas for coal and, to a lesser extent, oil.” I have long regarded the Worldwatch Institute as a trustworthy source of information, and accept that they believe transitioning to natural gas is largely an advantageous change, particularly in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

It should come as no surprise, however, that making the switch will not be easy. Among the obstacles to be overcome are the establishment of a fair and functioning carbon market, passage of laws regulating and taxing the gas industry, and open access and fair pricing in electricity markets. From my own point of view, it would seem that making the gas widely available ought to happen concurrently with the passage of regulations. They’re kind of like love and marriage – you can’t have one without the other, although perhaps it would be more precise to say you shouldn’t have one without the other. Last year’s so-called “economic meltdown” taught us the absolute necessity of having regulations in place, and of attending closely both to the spirit, and the letter, of the law.

More information about natural gas can be found at www.cleanskies.org/resources.

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