By Joel Huberman
In his Jan. 4 Another Voice article, Craig Jackson described some apparent advantages of compressed natural gas derived from fracking over gasoline as a power source for vehicles. However, the article did not compare CNG-powered vehicles with electric vehicles. Could electric vehicles have even more advantages than those powered by compressed natural gas?
As described by Jackson, CNG is currently affordable, abundant and produced in the United States and Canada. But it won’t be affordable and abundant forever. It’s a finite resource that, if heavily used, will run out within 100 years. In contrast, renewable energy sources (wind, water and sun) that can produce power for electric vehicles will be around for millions of years; their price – free – won’t increase; they’re available throughout our country; and we don’t need Canada for a portion of our supply.
Although CNG may be clean compared to gasoline, it should not be described as “clean” when vastly cleaner energy is available from wind, water and sun. CNG, like gasoline, is a fossil fuel. Burning it adds to the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and thus increases the rate of global warming.
Even worse, producing natural gas (the raw material for CNG) by fracking releases into the atmosphere large amounts of such gas (as much as 9 percent of the total gas produced, according to a recent study in the prestigious scientific journal Nature).
Natural gas warms our planet more rapidly than carbon dioxide (about 25-fold faster, averaged over 100 years). These large gas emissions mean that the total global warming impact of CNG is worse than that of coal.
Furthermore, the process of fracking is fraught with problems, as is evident from the draft regulations released last month by the Department of Environmental Conservation. These regulations are intended to ensure that fracking operations don’t poison New York’s water supplies and don’t endanger the health of people living nearby.
The regulations may or may not achieve their purpose, but why take a chance when safer options are available? Wind, water and sun do not threaten our water supplies or our health.
Recent studies indicate that, if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming, we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels immediately and eliminate their use within the next couple of decades. Which, then, would be most economical: building an infrastructure to support compressed natural gas vehicles, knowing that the price of CNG will rise with time and that its use may become illegal in the future; or building an infrastructure to support electric vehicles, knowing that wind, water and sun will last forever, and the price of renewable electricity will decline after the infrastructure costs have been reimbursed?
Joel Huberman is a retired scientist and a member of the Energy Committee of the Niagara Group of the Sierra Club.