In a headline that would appear to be ripped off the pages of The Onion, The Guardian UK this week reported “Gas rebranded as green energy by EU.”
After billions of dollars spent in lobbying efforts over the years, the dirty energy industry in the European Union has managed to convince leaders that natural gas – produced from both traditional extraction and from fracking – is a green, clean, renewable resource, no different than solar or wind power.
From The Guardian:
Energy from gas power stations has been rebranded as a green, low-carbon source of power by a €80bn European Union programme, in a triumph of the deep-pocketed fossil fuel industry lobby over renewable forms of power.
In a secret document seen by the Guardian, a large slice of billions of euros of funds that are supposed to be devoted to research and development into renewables such as solar and wave power are likely to be diverted instead to subsidising the development of the well-established fossil fuel.
The news comes as a report from the respected International Energy Agency predicted a “golden age for gas” with global production of “unconventional” sources of gas (notably shale gas extracted by hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking') tripling by 2035.
In the EU, the shale gas lobby has been working for more than 18 months to get the “green energy” label in attempts to get their hands on renewable energy subsidies, and brand themselves as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. They have also been touting that they are less costly than other forms of “green energy.”
The re-branding will be a huge boon to the shale gas industry, as EU leaders and member countries have set goals of significantly reducing their carbon levels over the next four decades. Leaders had been looking to invest in other forms of green energy like wind and solar, and would have spent heavily on building infrastructure to make these methods viable. Instead, they can now turn to shale gas, which will pull money away from truly clean sources of energy, and put it into the pockets of Big Oil fracking companies.
The most important part of the story is the fact that the determination of shale gas as “green,” along with the industry’s claims that it is the cheapest alternative available, are both based on a false report from the industry.
Gas lobbyists have been meeting with politicians and other leaders throughout Europe over the last few months to push their erroneous report, a move that has paid off both politically and financially for the industry. As The Guardian reported in April of this year:
A new gas-fired power station would be expected to have a useful life of about 25 to 40 years. So although switching from coal to gas would help countries meet their short term emissions targets, in the longer term they would be left with fleets of redundant, high-emitting fossil fuel power stations – unless they were fitted with expensive technology to capture and store the carbon dioxide underground. However, this technology is still unproven and it is likely to be decades before it can be widely used. The economics of the technology are highly uncertain, and renewable companies argue that the assumptions used by the European Gas Advocacy Forum to show that the fossil fuel is cheaper than renewables do not stand up to scrutiny.
Shale gas is controversial because it requires large amounts of water to release it from rocks, and the use of potentially dangerous chemicals that could leach into the water supply. Numerous cases in the US, which has led the way in releasing gas from shale rocks using fracking technology, have shown evidence of contamination and dangerous leaks of methane.
Further doubt has been thrown on the industry's claims by a newly released academic study from Cornell University which found that generating electricity from shale gas – because of the difficulty in extracting it from rocks – produces at least as much carbon dioxide as coal-fired power, and perhaps more.
To put it plainly, the actual burning of shale gas might release less carbon than burning coal, and it may be cheaper on the surface than other renewables, that is only if you ignore all of the other economic, health, and environmental impactss that are required to make shale gas viable for use.
But when it comes to financial matters, the only thing that matters to elected officials – no matter which country they live in – is the amount of money an industry is willing to put into their personal pockets and reelection campaigns.
In reality, it’s the rest of us who pay the price for the poor policy choices enabled by elaborate industry misinformation efforts.