Dec 09, 2022
One of the most explosive revelations in the just released House Oversight Committee report on Big Oil disinformation is that the oil industry never saw methane, what they euphemistically rebranded "natural gas," as a "bridge fuel" to a clean energy future: they always saw it as a "destination," an ongoing addiction they planned to do everything in their power to maintain.
What the "bridge fuel" fantasy always ignored was the terrible impacts that gas has up and down its supply chain.
For years, oil companies, politicians, and even some environmental groups, promoted gas as a "bridge fuel" to a clean energy future, the idea being that gas could help "bridge the gap" between an energy system stuck on coal and renewable energy that wasn't ready for prime time. For a brief moment, one could be forgiven for believing this narrative: the CO2 emissions from gas are indeed lower than coal and in the early 2000s clean energy was still significantly more expensive than fossil fuels. The idea of gas being a "bridge" was so compelling that President Obama made it a central part of his administration's strategy to reduce emissions.
What the "bridge fuel" fantasy always ignored was the terrible impacts that gas has up and down its supply chain. From the fracking needed to produce the gas (which contaminates water and poison communities), to the leaking pipelines that transport it (which spew planet heating methane into the atmosphere), to the burning of it in our homes and power plants (which releases dangerous chemicals like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde), gas has always a climate wrecking poison.
Even as these impacts became unignorable, and the price of renewables and batteries rapidly dropped, making them the cheapest source of new energy, the fossil fuel industry worked hard to not only maintain the "bridge fuel" narrative--but simultaneously try and reframe gas as not only a "bridge" but a "destination."
One of the documents released by the House Oversight Committee on Friday is the slide from a 2017 strategy presentation made for BP by the Brunswick Group, a leading fossil fuel PR firm. In the presentation, Brunswick frames the goal of their "campaign" as to "advance and protect the role of gas--and BP--in the future of energy conservation." A different internal BP document, titled the "Role of Gas," describes BP America's goal as to, "Prevent further erosion of near-term support for gas vs. other fuels, protect role of gas as a bridge in a low-carbon transition, and position gas as a destination fuel for the long term" (emphasis added). In another email, BP executives told their colleagues not to "concede the point" that gas didn't have a future by "referring to it mainly as a 'bridge.'"
Other documents show the great lengths the industry has gone to try and make gas a permanent part of our energy mix. In 2021, the American Petroleum Institute released what was branded as a comprehensive "Climate Action Framework," but according to internal emails obtained by the committee, the real purpose of the framework was "the continued promotion of natural gas in a carbon constrained world."
We've all seen the results of this strategy: nonstop advertising campaigns on TV and across social media platforms touting the benefits of gas and pretending it's a key climate solution. While one rarely sees a commercial for old fashioned crude oil, "natural gas" has become the friendly face of the fossil fuel industry.
The documents released by the committee cut through this greenwash and show gas for what it really is: the industry's latest ploy to keep us hooked on their product. Gas was never meant to be a "bridge," that whole rhetorical frame was simply a way to deepen our dependence on a dangerous fossil fuel and hold back real climate solutions.
Our job now is to educate the public about what gas really is: climate wrecking methane. Another dirty fossil fuel which is putting our families and communities at risk. A poisonous gas that the industry has piped into our homes, harming the health of our children and ourselves. An increasingly volatile and expensive source of energy, especially now that cheaper and safer alternatives exist.
That's the important work of campaigns like Gas Leaks, which is combating gas industry propaganda, Clean Creatives, which is going after the PR and advertising agencies that greenwash gas and other fossil fuels, and Rewiring America, who are pushing to electrify homes, schools and buildings across the country.
By revealing gas for what it really is, today's House Oversight Committee Report is a boost to all those efforts. The industry may want methane to be our final destination, but we can choose to move in a different direction. Let's go.
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