Many good people mistakenly believe that shale gas is uniquely and acutely threatening to the environment, even though it has never been responsible for anything like the Centralia, Pennsylvania fire.
On May 27, 1962, as the town prepared for Memorial Day, the coal under Centralia ignited. Fifty years later, Centralia's population, once 1,400, is down to 5. The fire continues to burn.
The Washington Post wrote a piece, marking the 50th anniversary of the nation's most famous coal fire.
But Centralia is far from unique. Up to 200 coal fires are burning in as many as 21 states. www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2010/0205/Centralia-Pa.-coal-fire-is-one-of-hundreds-that-burn-in-the-U.S.
Around the world, thousands of coal fires are burning now, with an incredible 1,300 estimated in Indonesia alone. Mercury emissions from the global coal fires are estimated at 48 tons or about equal to all the mercury emitted in the USA in a year from all sources.
In the USA, about $1 billion has been spent trying to fight coal fires and nearly all of that in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Natural gas is cleaner burning and causes less damage than many alternatives, and certainly less than coal and oil that together supply about 54% of our total energy. Using more gas, in fact, is cutting pollution in the USA by large amounts, since it is displacing more polluting, competing fuels. Natural gas also could be cutting emissions around the world, but the war on hydraulic fracturing delays the use of gas, insuring more coal and oil usage and the associated impacts.
The 50th anniversary of Centralia fire should remind all of these truths.