STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A lot of big energy companies, like ExxonMobil, are betting that natural gas will provide a lot more of the country’s electricity in the future. It’s become more affordable as more companies extract gas from enormous shale rock formations – from New York to Texas. And electricity from natural gas produces about half the global warming pollution that coal does.
Some national environmental groups have started pushing natural gas as a climate fix. But as NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren reports, it’s sparking friction with some of their local members.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: The Sierra Club’s internal dispute over natural gas flared up recently, at Cornell University.
(Soundbite of machinery)
SHOGREN: During a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of a plant that will help Cornell switch from coal to natural gas.
Unidentified Man: We’re going to walk into the heating plant…
SHOGREN: Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles came all the way from Washington cheer Cornell on. He heads the group’s fight against coal and he’s gung-ho about natural gas as a remedy to climate change.
Mr. BRUCE NILLES (Sierra Club): Natural gas is going to play a critical role in our energy mix for the next two to three, if not four, decades.
SHOGREN: Nilles believes part of the solution lies right under Cornell University and much of western New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – the giant Marcellus shale gas field.
Mr. NILLES: We are for development but it’s got to be done right and allow us to get off of coal in the next two decades.
Ms. KATE BARTHOLOMEW (Chair, Sierra Club, New York Finger Lakes Region): That’s all well and good, but also one of the Sierra Club’s priorities is about clean water.
SHOGREN: Kate Bartholomew is the volunteer chair of Sierra Club’s local chapter in New York’s Finger Lakes region. She’s a high school biology teacher, and she’s worried that this area’s fabulous lakes and drinking wells will be poisoned by chemical-laced water pumped under ground by drilling companies. She says she confronted Nilles about this during a breakfast before the tour.
Ms. BARTHOLOMEW: Bruce and I had a little bit of a tense moment.
SHOGREN: The Sierra Club’s whole New York State chapter is fighting to keep Marcellus gas underground in direct opposition to the national group’s policy. Bartholomew says the state activists were spurred into action when they saw pictures of shale gas developments elsewhere in the country.