Cheap Natural Gas is Replacing Coal for Electricity Production; Chesapeake Energy & Sierra Club Now at Odds

by Duane Nichols on February 4, 2012

Michael Brune Sierra Club

Jeff Herholdt, the director of the WV Division of Energy, delivered projections for coal in the future and its role  in West Virginia, according to the Taylor Kuykendall article in the State Journal. Herholdt was speaking to the WV Coal Association at their annual state symposium:

The biggest threat to continued use of coal-fired generation, Herholdt said, was the low prices of natural gas. “This is the kind of perfect-storm – we have these issues, abundant shale gas and unusually mild winter keeping natural gas prices low, natural gas well-head prices predicted to average $3 an MCF in 2012, $4 in 2013,” Herhodlt said. “As a result, electric utilities are looking to natural gas as a potential replacement for emission non-compliant, older coal-fired plants.”

The coal industry wants answers from Chesapeake on anti-coal funding, according to recent reports. Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, spent the last few minutes of his presentation to West Virginia coal miners and industry executives discussing his disgust with Chesapeake Energy for their funding of anti-coal campaigns. Bissett described the $26 million the Sierra Club received from the natural gas industry. Bissett said Chesapeake’s action was incredibly inappropriate.

“People need to know where the money comes from,” Bissett said during his presentation at the symposium. “But to fund, sort of under the cover of night, a public health organization that supposedly is focused with communicating to the public, when in fact it may have been more drive(n) by market share. I think that’s rather insidious, and I hold Chesapeake responsible for this.”

A Chesapeake Energy spokesman said, “Over the years, Chesapeake has been proud to support a number of organizations that share our interest in clean air and agree that America’s abundant supplies of clean natural gas represent the most affordable, available and scalable fuel to power a more prosperous and environmentally responsible future for our country.”

According to Time Magazine, most of the funding came from Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon. The Sierra Club issued a statement about its relationship with Chesapeake, saying it was no longer in support of the industry because of concerns with hydraulic fracturing.  “It’s time to stop thinking of natural gas as a ‘kinder, gentler’ energy source,” Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune wrote. “What’s more, we do not have an effective regulatory system in this country to address the risks that gas drilling poses on our health and communities. The scope of the problems from under-regulated drilling, as well as a clearer understanding of the total carbon pollution that results from both drilling and burning gas, have made it plain that, as we phase out coal, we need to leapfrog over gas whenever possible in favor of truly clean energy.”

The Sierra Club’s initiative was known as “Beyond Coal.” At the beginning of that campaign, Brune says in a recently released statement for the Sierra Club, natural gas was viewed as a bridge fuel between coal and renewable energies, based on the “best science” available at that time. “By mid-August 2010, with gas industry practices and our policies increasingly in conflict, I recommended to the board, and it agreed, to end the funding relationship between the club and the gas industry, and all fossil fuel companies or executives,” Brune wrote. 

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