Skip to content

Why Using Natural Gas for Energy is an Obstacle to Climate Progress

In our fight to avert a climate catastrophe, we must phase out every use of fossil fuels that significantly contributes to global warming pollution. While coal consumption in the United States is on its way out and more people are turning to electric vehicles, natural gas has remained stubbornly persistent. Approximately one-third of the country’s primary energy needs are supplied by natural gas, with most of that going to generating electricity, heating homes and buildings, and acting as a feedstock for industrial purposes.

Natural gas, or methane, is responsible for one-third of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions. When released into the atmosphere, methane is 80 times more powerful at warming the climate as carbon dioxide (CO2) over the first 20 years after it is emitted. Methane is also notoriously leaky. A recent study by the Environmental Defense Fund reports that gas pipelines alone are leaking between 1.2 and 2.6 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. In 2022, the CO2 emissions created from burning gas to generate electricity or heat were nearly double those of coal. Burning gas also creates harmful air pollution that causes asthma and other respiratory problems.

Despite the clear evidence that natural gas is worsening the climate crisis and air quality, the gas industry has gone to great lengths to convince people that it is a clean, safe, and inevitable staple of the country’s energy mix. It has spent millions on public relations campaigns, including efforts to target specific demographics and use  customers’ money to slow climate progress.

In many sectors where natural gas is used, clean and reliable alternatives exist. For example, wind and solar generation are cheaper in almost all cases than a new natural gas power plant. Heat pumps for air and water can replace natural gas furnaces and water heaters, and many industrial processes can now use clean electricity instead of burning fossil fuels. Tremendous strides are being made to deploy technologies—like energy storage—that can provide the same grid reliability for renewables that natural gas power plants provide. Recent events like the extreme cold snap on the Eastern Seaboard last December or the heat wave in Texas last June are proof that natural gas generation falters in extreme weather, and wind and solar power are showing up to keep the lights on.

The Heising-Simons Foundation’s Climate and Clean Energy program supports many organizations working to reduce methane leaks and promote solutions that reduce overall demand for natural gas. Our partners are also actively working to combat the natural gas industry’s deliberate misinformation campaigns by exposing how the gas industry is trying to confuse the public about the impact of natural gas on climate and public health.

The natural gas industry is one of the largest, most powerful corporate forces in the world. It will take concerted efforts to ensure it is not the last remaining obstacle to climate progress. This means halting the expansion of natural gas infrastructure, adopting new policies like EPA’s proposed pollution standards for power plants and state-level clean energy standards, and developing programs for buildings and industrial applications to switch from natural gas to electricity.

Clean electricity is a clear solution to reducing our reliance on natural gas and thereby safeguarding people’s health and protecting our planet. Instead of clinging on to fossil fuels, the U.S. should continue its efforts to expand and enhance the supply of and equitable access to clean, renewable electricity.

Follow us on LinkedIn.

Climate and Clean Energy