Methane gas is bad for the South

Methane, the primary ingredient of what’s called “natural gas” by the gas industry and utilities, is a fossil fuel and greenhouse gas more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere in the short term. Methane extraction and consumption produces dangerous pollution that harms air, water, and human health.  

Across our region, utilities are touting that they are set to retire about 25,000 megawatts of coal while simultaneously rushing to build 33,000 megawatts of new gas plants by 2038 and pipelines to supply them. In addition to harming the environment and climate, gas pipelines expose communities to the risk of explosions and leaks.  This is alarming news for Southern communities. SELC is working to protect these communities from utilities pushing to build harmful gas pipelines and plants.   

Why is methane dangerous?

Reducing methane emissions from the gas system is one of the most critical near-term things we can do to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Methane gas is a dual threat to the climate. Burning it releases carbon dioxide, the primary driver of climate change, and methane itself is a potent greenhouse gas that leaks into the atmosphere throughout the supply chain. Methane alone is responsible for one-third of the warming of our planet. 
 
Methane extraction and consumption are associated with many harmful effects on human health. Hydraulic fracturing wells, commonly called “fracking,” produce dangerous air pollution and can cause irreparable damage to waterways and drinking water. Gas pipeline compressor stations will emit this air pollution into surrounding communities. 

Reducing methane emissions from the gas system is one of the most critical near-term things we can do to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change

GREG BUPPERT, SELC’S REGIONAL GAS TEAM LEADER

Some of these pollutants, like fine particulates and formaldehyde, are unsafe at any level of exposure and cause long-term harm to respiratory and cardiovascular health. Gas-fired power plants produce large volumes of these pollutants and can spur the formation of ozone, another harmful respiratory pollutant, over a widespread area. Gas pipelines also pose the additional risk of leaks and explosions, further exposing nearby communities to unnecessary danger. 

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Disproportionate negative effects on vulnerable communities

Gas-fired power plants are disproportionately concentrated in communities of color or low-wealth areas, as are hydraulic fracturing wells. From leaking fumes to explosions, gas poses a particularly egregious threat to environmental justice.

Over two million miles of gas pipelines currently cut across the country, and according to the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, are disproportionately concentrated in communities that have historically borne the brunt of polluting industries. That’s because pipeline routing often follows what one industry spokesperson in 2021 called “the path of least resistance,” or land made cheap by a long history of discriminatory practices. Take the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, for example, which SELC, partners, and local communities defeated in 2020: its planned route took it through indigenous communities in North Carolina and historically Black communities in Virginia.

Methane gas is a polluting fossil fuel

Three women wearing colorful protest signs pose at a rally to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Virginians attending a march in Washington D.C. wore posters supporting the efforts to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline. (©Phuong Tran)

SELC is working to stop the next frontier of fossil-fuel investments in the form of harmful gas pipelines and plants, and we’re pushing the adoption of cleaner, more affordable energy solutions that don’t carry the enormous costs and risks of gas. Proposals for new, potentially hazardous pipelines and gas plants are driven by claims that burning gas for power generation produces less carbon dioxide than burning coal or oil. The problem is that combustion is just one stage in the gas life-cycle. When its full life-cycle is taken into account, it can be as harmful to the climate as other fossil fuels — or even more.  

Yet utilities in SELC’s region continue to misrepresent gas as “clean energy,” which could not be farther from the truth. As the impacts of climate change become more severe and our timeline to tackle the climate crisis more urgent, it is irresponsible to double down on another fossil fuel when utilities should be aggressively pursuing renewable energy options. With over 22 gigawatts of solar energy already installed—enough to power over 2.6 million homes—and the rapid development of battery-storage technology, renewable energy technologies are primed to take on the increasing demand for power.  

SELC is defeating gas projects

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have put the people in its path at risk, threatened waters and land across three states, and locked citizens into using a dirty energy source for decades. It was an unfair scheme from large utility companies, and residents of Virginia and North Carolina would have footed the $8 billion bill. In 2020, after arguing multiple cases in the court of appeals and even one before the U.S. Supreme Court, we successfully defeated this destructive and costly pipeline.  

Now we’re taking on plans for new plants from utilities like TVA and Duke Energy, and the gas pipeline expansion proposed by the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company. According to utility plans in SELC’s region, monopoly utilities are planning to add nearly 33,000 megawatts of new gas-fired power plants by 2038, with TVA planning one of the largest new methane gas buildouts in the country. Just one of the eight new gas plants TVA has proposed since 2021 would emit 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gases, the same amount as half a million cars. 

We’re building on our past successes in protecting communities and redoubling our work alongside citizen groups and allies to prevent Southern utilities from making bad investments in destructive, climate-warming gas projects.