June 18, 2012

Natural Gas and Climate Change Throwdown Set to Kick Off Tomorrow in Senate Hearing

The Hill's Energy and Environment blog has a nice heads-up on a high-profile Senate hearing on natural gas and climate impacts set to go down tomorrow morning at 10 am EST in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 406. 

The hearing, being held by the Senate Environment and Public Works's Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, features some pretty heavy hitters. First at-bat is Gina McCarthy, the EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Interestingly enough, she was also a high-level environmental staffer in Gov. Romney's administration- see this well-written profile and comparison of her tenure in both administrations from Mother Jones.

Following her will be Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund (their recent study on natural gas and climate change is linked and quoted in the Hill post), as well as a number of high-level environmental officials from Wyoming and Colorado. The fossil fuel folks will be repped by an energy company representative and the president of an industry oil and gas trade association. The full roster of witnesses can be found here, and the archived webcast of the hearing, as well as statements from the majority and minority, will be posted on the Senate EP&W site after the hearing. 

The Hill post is very comprehensive coverage of the arguments, claims, counter-claims, and studies that will be volleyed back and forth tomorrow morning, and thus serves as a very informative look at what current Beltway discourse on natural gas and climate change impacts looks like.  Much of the controversy (some of which is quite legitimate, given the dearth of data around the relatively new technique of large-scale fracking) is around measurements of fugitive methane emissions from natural gas pipelines. 

However, it is worth taking a broader and more nuanced look at the aggregate political, economic, and technical ramifications of a transition to natural gas to really measure its potential climate impact. For example, two recent studies (one from the International Energy Agency and one from scientists Nathan Myrvhold and Ken Caldeira) are both skeptical (to say the least) of the climate benefits of natural gas, with both concluding that the benefits are essentially negligible. Neither study was mentioned in the Hill piece but both, presumably, could be plausible topics of discussion in tomorrow's hearing.