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NJ Daily / ENERGY

Going Against the Green Grain on Natural Gas

People take part in a rally in January against hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y.(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

photo of Amy Harder
March 5, 2012

HOUSTON—The Environmental Defense Fund is known for its willingness to work with industry on energy and climate-change policies. That inclination is on display more than ever at a major energy conference that kicked off here on Monday with a heavy focus on the development of natural gas.

More than 300 experts and executives from the global energy industry are attending the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates annual conference, known as CERA Week, and just a handful of them bring an environmental viewpoint to the proceedings. Among those are two experts from New York-based EDF, an influential environmental group that often deviates from its counterparts such as the Sierra Club to partner with fossil-fuel industries.

“You don’t make change by simply talking to people who agree with you,” Mark Brownstein, deputy director of the energy program at EDF, told National Journal Daily after speaking on a panel about natural gas on Monday. “You certainly don’t make change if you’re not knowledgeable about the folks that you’re trying to change.”

 

EDF President Fred Krupp speaks on another panel, also about natural gas, on Wednesday.

Many environmental groups are critical of natural gas, specifically the controversial method used to extract the recently discovered reserves of shale natural gas all over the country.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” is a process in which large amounts of water, chemicals, and sand are pumped into a well at high pressures to fracture rock and allow natural gas to escape. Concerns persist about water contamination and the climate-change impact of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that escapes during the gas production process.  Natural gas burns 50 percent more cleanly than coal, but less data is available on what impact methane emissions during production are having on climate change.

“If we’re not able to do this correctly, it will fundamentally limit the supply and limit the opportunity,” Brownstein said.

Brownstein was a lone wolf on a panel of six experts; the others were all from the energy sector. Some often looked to Brownstein for the other perspective, with “other” meaning anything besides the views of an energy company or consulting firm.

The experts were discussing a new study of North America’s recently-discovered reserves of shale natural gas. Brownstein worked with industry on the report, which was led by the National Petroleum Council, a federal advisory committee made up of oil and gas executives.

“The most surprising thing to me was actually participating,” Brownstein quipped about the report.

In his closing remarks, Brownstein made a bid to win over critics of natural gas by arguing for its potential to provide the country with bountiful, and comparatively clean, energy.

“Plenty of people out there are betting that it won’t happen and preparing for the eventuality that it won’t,” Brownstein said. “I think it’s up to all of us in the room to, frankly, prove them wrong.”

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