Gas wars in New York are anything but natural

Source: straga / iStock via Getty Images

(A native of England, veteran journalist Matthew Diebel has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations.)

How the gas industry was handed a marketing gift

Gas. I recall being confused by that word when I first landed on these shores from England about 50 years ago. “Why isn’t it called petrol?” I asked my cousin as he pumped fuel into his tricked-out Plymouth Barracuda. “Well, it’s a shortening of the word gasoline,” he explained. “Well, what is the stuff you use for cooking and heating your house?” I asked. “That’s natural gas,” he told me.

For me, meanwhile, gas — the stuff you use in your stove — was gas. In the U.S., however — in part because of the confusion of the shortened moniker for gasoline and in part to differentiate it from the old methods of producing gas from coal and oil — the phrase “natural gas” has arisen. And though it wasn’t coined as a green-sounding name, it has been embraced by the fossil fuel industry as a convenient way of making its product sound relatively benign when it comes to its pollutive effects.

“There’s nothing natural about fracking; there’s nothing natural about thousands of miles of pipelines and there’s nothing natural about the indoor air pollution that is associated with gas,” Caleb Heeringa, campaign director of the environmental advocacy group Gas Leaks, told Phys.Org.

With this in mind, Heeringa and other environmentalists are pushing regulators to set a policy discouraging companies from using the term “natural gas” in marketing, arguing it inaccurately casts the substance as a clean, green source of energy. Alternatives pitched by activists include “methane gas” and “fossil gas.” In particular, they aim to influence the Federal Trade Commission as it plans updates to its Green Guides, which govern environmental marketing claims…

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