Monday, January 11, 2010

Environmentalists debate whether natural gas is safer for the environment

Staci Matlock
The New Mexican
Posted: Friday, January 08, 2010 - 1/5/10

New Mexico is a top producer of natural gas and some environmentalists
see the fuel as a more environmentally friendly energy choice than

But is it?

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, sees well-regulated
natural gas production as a good way to transition from coal and oil
to renewable sources like solar, wind and biofuels. "Natural gas is an
excellent example of a fuel that can be produced in quite a clean way,
and shouldn't be wasted," he said. "We see it as part of the energy
transition to a post-fossil fuel economy."

But Johnny Micou, who helped martial a grass-roots effort to stop
exploratory oil and gas drilling in the Galisteo Basin near Santa Fe,
said the environmental impact of unconventional drilling practices
that are allowing industry to tap into new natural gas sources have
not been thoroughly studied. "The cumulative environmental impacts of
drilling need to be considered," he said.

Micou thinks the Sierra Club needs to take a tougher stand. Supporting
natural gas as a "transition" fuel only delays the sense of urgency
needed to make a real and substantial shift in energy sources. "There
are parts where we (he and Pope) agree, but I would like to see more
strides now and a significant change from the way we do energy sources
and automobiles," Micou said. "Soft-pedaling on industry now is going
to perpetuate the problem."

New Mexico is the fourth- or fifth-largest producer of natural gas in
the country every year and revenues generated from the billions of
cubic feet extracted are a big boost for the state. Most of the
natural gas comes from the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico
and the Permian Basin in the south. Now energy companies are eyeing
basins from Tucumcari to Mora that are potentially rich in natural