A number of cities are considering legislation to limit the use of natural gas, amid evidence that it leaks of unburned gas may harm the climate more than carbon dioxide
By Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, Sept 9 (Reuters) – Dozens of cities in liberal-leaning states such as California, Washington, and Massachusetts are studying proposals to ban or limit the use of natural gas in commercial and residential buildings. The movement opens a new front in the fight against climate change that could affect everything from heating systems in skyscrapers to stoves in suburban homes. Berkeley, California, in July became the first U.S. city to pass an ordinance banning gas systems in new buildings, and it may soon be followed by many others, according to interviews with local officials, activists and industry groups. Los Angeles and Seattle are among those considering laws that could drastically reduce natural gas consumption.
“Berkeley is the opening salvo,” said Bruce Nilles, managing director of think tank Rocky Mountain Institute’s building electrification program.
Local officials and environmentalists cite mounting evidence that unburned gas leaking from pipes and compressor stations harms the climate more than carbon dioxide, the byproduct of burned fossil fuels.
Many environmentalists until recently considered natural gas a “bridge fuel” to a future of renewable energy because gas burns cleaner than oil or coal. Now local officials are stepping into what they call a federal regulatory void under the administration of President Donald Trump, who argues fossil-fuel restrictions needlessly damage the economy.
They want buildings switched to electric power from a grid that is increasingly powered by renewable energy. U.S. utilities currently derive about 35% of their electricity from gas but have also nearly doubled their use of renewable fuels in the past decade, from 9% to 17% of all power, according to the EIA.
Residential and commercial buildings account for about 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They are also crucial to natural gas sales: Direct gas consumption amounted to about 8.45 trillion cubic feet in 2018, rivaling the 10.63 tcf used by utilities to power the grid, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
If gas bans in buildings become widespread, they could upend the business models of some of the world’s biggest energy companies, which are investing billions of dollars to produce and ship more natural gas on the belief the fuel will play a key role in the transition to a cleaner energy economy. Big gas producers including Exxon Mobil https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/Energy-and-environment/Energy-resources/Natural-gas , Shell https://www.shell.com/energy-and-innovation/natural-gas/providing-more-and-cleaner-energy.html , and BP https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/sustainability/climate-change/natural-gas.html , argue gas improves the environment by replacing dirtier fuels such as coal.
Natural gas companies alarmed by the trend are pushing back with ad campaigns and research promoting gas as a superior cooking fuel and an affordable option in a country that has become the world’s top gas producer.
“We are trying to get ahead of it,” said Stuart Saulters, the Director of Government Affairs of the American Public Gas Association. “We think there is a chance this can domino.”