This is my second time attending Harry Reid’s clean energy summit in Las Vegas, but this is the first I’ve really noticed the love fest going on in policy circles over natural gas — even over shale natural gas, which is created from rock and dug up from under the ground. Yes, T. Boone Pickens has been hailing natural gas as the solution to cleaner vehicles and power plants for months, but at the Clean Energy Summit today, it was clear that more and more politicians are jumping onto this bandwagon of natural gas as a viable transition to a cleaner future.
John Podesta, the CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, kicked off the conference this morning by saying that natural gas shale could be “game-changing” if the U.S. could tap into those reserves. Podesta and Sen. Tim Wirth (the moderator at the conference) published an article today on the Center For American Progress Action Fund’s web site in timing with the event. The article offers more concrete suggestions for how we can “use gas as a bridge fuel to a 21st-century energy economy,” including more incentives and credits for replacing coal and gasoline with natural gas technologies.
Pickens, of course, gave his usual mantra that if we can convert 6.5 million diesel trucks to natural gas-burning vehicles, it would cut oil use significantly. He has been making quite a bit of progress in elevating the conversation in Washington, D.C., about natural gas vehicles. Last month, Reid (with Pickens in tow) introduced legislation called the Nat Gas Act aimed at encouraging the development and purchasing of natural gas vehicles. At the summit today, Reid even jokingly referred to the fact that “he’s been converted to the church of T. Boone.”
And Al Gore even joined the natural gas praise, specifically calling out natural gas shale as an important potential resource and endorsing Pickens’ plan for natural gas-powered trucks. Gore had previously largely been advocating electric vehicles in his controversial plan for the U.S. to use clean power for 100 percent of its electricity.
Most of the speakers noted that natural gas is still a fossil fuel with considerable carbon emissions, but compared with coal and gasoline-powered vehicles, it’s much better. According to the Natural Gas Vehicle Association, natural gas vehicles produce 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than a standard gas vehicle. That’s about the same as corn-based ethanol which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, has a greenhouse gas reduction of 21.8 percent compared with gas-powered cars. So, for greenhouse gas reductions it’s all right — but not excellent. From a domestic fuel point of view (breaking the U.S. addiction to foreign oil) it’s great, which is one of the reasons why Pickens is so supportive of it.