Does natural gas burn cleaner than coal when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, and in the emissions of other harmful pollutants? Undoubtedly yes. If you actually burn it, that is.
And there's the problem.
Thanks to rising natural gas prices, coal has made a comeback in the U.S. electricity generation mix. That trend, if sustained, would reverse both the drop in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to a 20-year low and the recent dramatic gains in cleaning the air and improving public health.
As I wrote here, what the invisible hand of the market giveth, it can taketh away. The climate and public health gains enabled by shale gas development are insecure, as the latest numbers show. Natural gas exports, if approved, will take us further in the wrong direction.
With gas prices bound to rise further as the market comes into balance, there is no substitute for energy policies that would minimize the emissions from coal and transform natural gas into a near zero carbon fuel while propelling growing renewable energy development.
Otherwise, the potential - and urgently needed - climate gains from shale gas will be another lost opportunity on the way to a devastatingly warmer world.