Forstater: ‘Natural’ can be questioned

Forstater urges students to question the cleanliness of the use of natural gas.

Toby Forstater

Toby ForstaterWe’re often bombarded with messages in media about so-called clean energy.

“Natural gas drillers are committed to drilling safely and responsibly, providing decades of cleaner burning energy,” was a claim made in a commercial for America’s Natural Gas Alliance.

Natural gas is clean burning. It’s local. It can improve our economy. But when we look at reality, it isn’t such a black and white issue.

Josh Fox, the man who produced the documentary “Gasland,” said on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” that more than 30 percent of all wells leak methane.

Methane is 26 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. So, since each drilling site averages six wells, statistically every site has a leak and in turn methane induces a larger footprint than both oil and coal.

The natural gas industry is flourishing across America, but environmental catastrophes are also rampant.

However, gas conglomerates like Halliburton and Chevron Corporation would rarely admit fault when their wallets are threatened.

In the past year, the Environmental Protection Agency shut down investigations in Dimock, Pa., Pavillion, Wyo., and Parker County, Texas, according to’s founder Bill McKibben.

Conversely, for the first time there is conclusive evidence linking arsenic, selenium, strontium and barium to hydraulic fracturing contaminating a multitude of wells in Texas, according to the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

However, loophole legislation like the Energy Policy Act of 2005 doesn’t require energy companies to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and the right-to-know law.

On one hand, places like Bradford County, Pa., experienced a booming economy after installing more than 1,100 wells. According to NPR’s website, the area has almost 700 environmental infractions, but perhaps residents are more concerned with the job market. Construction jobs in piping, trucking, road work and transportation are open to local property owners. Another undeniable perk is the cheap electricity that results from the gas industry across Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.

Then again, maybe the electricity is so inexpensive because it’s subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

Regardless, thousands of truckers come in and out of fracking sites seven days a week, transporting billions of gallons of unknown chemicals, sand and water, more than 50 percent of which are not recoverable.

I would hate to live on one of those roads.

More jobs include producing piping and the need to pave roads, which, again, seems to indicate taxpayer dollars. It should be remembered, however, all of these workers need places to stay, so housing prices stay stable and hotels light up with “no vacancy” signs.

Students may not connect the fracking debate to their lifestyles at Temple. Multi-billion dollar corporations like BP and Shell seem untouchable, but it is citizen-based action that makes real impact. Students need to build awareness of their potential to induce positive change.

On the political sector, for the first time, more than half of Pennsylvanians support a moratorium on natural gas extraction, according to NPR and PennEnvironment.

The organization Food and Water Watch has a petition against fracking, and anyone can call Michael Stack, the senator who represents the Temple area, at 215-281-2539. Those who oppose fracking can ask him to support Senator Jim Ferlo’s bill proposing a fracking moratorium. Stack should represent the constituents who make their voices heard rather than those letting environmental degradation happen behind peoples’ backs.

The university has two generators that can use diesel and natural gas. Even further, natural gas accounts for almost 30 percent of electricity production in America, according to the Energy Information Administration. That means every time a projector is left on, an empty room is lit up or a computer is sleeping, natural gas is burning away. Take an extra second, be a good Samaritan and flick the switch off – our grandkids will thank us.

As weather cools, radiators warm our homes, but keeping the heat a few degrees down can make a huge difference. When looking back to summer, thermostat temperatures range from 65 to 75 degrees – indoor winter temperatures reflect that same range. A simple tip is to wear an extra layer while inside.

Unplugging all electronics can save up to 7 percent on an electricity bill, also known as phantom waste, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Refrigerators are super-powered air conditioning units. Leaving one open for more than 2 minutes can waste more electricity than any other appliance.

When you’re outside of the TECH Center and a cloud of smoke spews from the bus with “Clean Gas” written on it, don’t be afraid to question just how clean it really is.

Toby Forstater can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.