I've heard a lot of bashing of the natural gas boom around here, and I think we all need to take some serious stock of the debate. Generally, I think the industry has done a piss poor job of selling the process, mostly because it's the same folks running the Oil biz, and their default response to any questions about pollution is denial and obfuscation. Their methods need to be transparent, their chemicals need to be regulated, and they need to be good neighbors, but ultimately, domestic gas drilling is a really good thing for us. It's high paying private sector jobs, national security, and privately funded infrastructure investment all rolled into one.
All those things are nice, but I think we need to go straight to the heart of the matter. Natural gas replaces, for the vast majority of the market, coal fired power generation. Burning coal is simply one of the worst ideas around. With centuries of cheap, clean natural gas coming online, I think it's well past time we closed the book on coal.
Beyond the excess carbon problem, a subject which I even lean a bit right on, the MERCURY being spewed out of that coal is going to slowly poison our entire ecosystem.
There is a strong body of evidence suggesting that coal's tendency to bind to free mercury and other heavy metals is one of the reasons that higher order intelligent life is able to exist on earth. An indisputable fact is that such life did not exist until AFTER the carboniferous era roughly 300M years ago. This is the time when fluctuating sea levels and a huge explosion of tropical style bio-mass created the bulk of the worlds coal deposits.
Shortly thereafter, the extant biome of plants, simple multicellular marine organisms, and insects began an astonishing increase in complexity. The next era gave us dinosaurs, birds, mammals, large fish, etc, as well as the split between angiosperm and gymnosperm vegetation, which defines our current landscape.
So, whether correlative or causative, we know that complex nervous systems did not exist on earth until there were vast coal seams absorbing mercury out of rain and groundwater. We also know that mercury is a potent neurotoxin. So to dig up the very coal that captured all that mercury, burn it, and spew the shit back into our atmosphere, seems, to put it mildly, like a bad idea.
CO2 and climate change I think can be dealt by moderation of output, human and animal migration, and technology, all things well within our reach. But if we poison an entire strata, worldwide, with mercury, and every single species on earth begins to become weaker, slower, stupider, and less robust, we will be well and truly f***ed.