Growing in Power, Natural Gas Attracts Enemies


"Several groups launched campaigns highlighting the energy's potential problems."

Environmental groups want to extinguish the ardor many are feeling for natural gas.

As the fuel grows in market share and political power, several green groups have launched campaigns highlighting potential problems. They raise questions about everything from how natural gas is extracted to how much of a climate benefit it offers over competitors.

The efforts build on the buzz of Oscar-nominated "Gasland," an anti-drilling documentary. The natural gas industry, which calls many aspects of that movie erroneous, argues that the concerns of environmental groups are misplaced.

Natural gas is surging in use, pushed by record low prices for the fuel.

In 2010, natural gas constituted 24% of power generation, from 13% in 1996, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

EIA projects that by 2024, natural gas will drop back to 21% because of growth in renewable power and rising prices that would make coal more competitive.

But it could be buoyed by Congress. Some are talking about including the fuel in a clean energy standard, a requirement that utilities generate a portion of their power from less polluting sources.

Groups like the Sierra Club have watched that growth and natural gas's growing clout, and decided that they needed to seek more federal oversight.

The Sierra Club argues that drilling for the fuel can lead to groundwater contamination and problems with leaks into homes. Natural gas drillers, the green group said, enjoy exemptions from parts of several environmental rules.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) contends that there are doubts about the widely held belief that natural gas emits half the greenhouse gases of coal.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, meanwhile, is filing lawsuits against developers it believes have violated federal law and lobbying for fracking beefed-up regulation.

The natural gas industry said it has plenty of regulation.

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