To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
July 28, 2016
RE: Natural gas - a transition to disaster

The capitalists' dirty BIG secret: methane emissions

by Pete Brown, Detroit Workers' Voice

The July 23rd-29th issue of The Economist magazine carries an article about "a dirty little secret", the massive pileup of methane gas in the atmosphere. This article is notable in that The Economist is the standard-bearer of free-market capitalism, and has been for almost two centuries. So when they sound the alarm about some problem with the capitalist economy, you know there's a serious problem. Their message here is: "natural gas's reputation as a cleaner fuel than coal and oil risks being sullied by methane emissions." Yes, its "reputation" may be more than "sullied"; it could be downright ruined by recent exposures of the tremendous leaks of methane going on all over the U.S. and the recognition of how powerful a greenhouse gas methane is (25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, at least in the short run). The Economist is optimistic that capitalists can find a way to clean up methane emissions and maintain natural gas as a bridge fuel to the non-carbon economy coming some time in the future.

The article notes that the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a private NGO that works with the capitalists to reduce methane emissions, recently deployed infrared cameras along pipelines and next to wells to see just how much leakage of methane there is. The results were startling: wells and pipelines are spewing out methane at an alarming rate. The Economist assures us that many such leaks may be fixable "just with a wrench." But many are not, especially mega-leaks such as the one at Aliso Canyon in Los Angeles, which leaked about 100,000 tons of methane in four months last winter, forcing the evacuation of thousands of homes. Just about every gas well is leaking, especially those that have been fracked, since fracking cracks the earth and allows methane to seep out. Environmentalists like Bruce McKibben doubt that these leaks can ever be fixed, even if the oil and gas capitalists tried.

In response, the government's Environmental Defense Agency (EPA) has revised its estimate of how much methane is leaking from the oil-and-gas supply chain, upping its estimate by 30%. This means that the EPA has been underestimating the amount of methane gushing into the atmosphere by 30% for decades. Apparently they never bothered with infrared cameras themselves; they simply accepted whatever the capitalists told them. Now, finally, the EPA has introduced some regulations to control methane leaks, and The Economist praises this minimalist, belated measure by the Obama administration. They neglect to mention that the capitalists' American Petroleum Institute (API) is fighting these new regulations in court, which means these regulations are unlikely to ever be implemented.

The Economist paints a rosy picture of the American capitalists coming to terms with their "dirty little secret" in the oil and gas industry. Yes, the capitalists make some noises about being "responsible", but meanwhile they keep fracking all over the country and bragging about how much oil and gas they're producing. They're about as "responsible" as those Loony Tunes pseudo-scientists who propose putting space umbrellas over Earth to protect it from the sun's warming rays. The Economist says the only problem with present statistics on methane is the lack of reporting from producing countries like Russia, Nigeria and Angola. They neglect to mention Canada, which is spewing tons of methane into the atmosphere with its mining of tar sands oil, or Greenland and other Arctic nations which have much permafrost land now giving off methane as it is warmed by global warming. With these kinds of feedback mechanisms, the problem of methane emissions is much worse than what The Economist imagines; they've simply mentioned it in order to explain how capitalism can solve any problem.

But this "little problem" actually shows what's wrong with capitalist production in general. The oil and gas capitalists lie about their pollution; they lie about their production methods and their checkup on them; they lie about their safety measures; and they fight any attempt by any government, no matter how friendly to the energy industry, to impose some minimal regulations. Meanwhile they keep producing and selling oil and gas, making as much profit as possible before the next crisis hits. And the next environmental disaster, like BP's Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, cannot be long in coming. Oil and gas capitalists will keep fighting to make profits until many of them are driven into bankruptcy, others (like the leaders of Saddam Husein's Iraq) are massacred in wars for oil, and millions of innocents are sickened or killed by the fallout from such catastrophes.

The answer is not a few more regulations by a capitalist-friendly government like Barack Obama's. We need to eliminate the use of almost all fossil fuels now, not 100 years from now. We need to ditch the capitalists' ruling ideology of neo-liberalism and bring about major changes in industry and agriculture. We need to end the privatization of government functions and the capture of regulatory agencies by capitalist industrialists; and we need working class influence in economic planning and the real enforcement of environmental measures. <>

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Posted on July 30, 2016.