Natural gas is now fossil gas. Does it make a difference?


Absolutely everyone is familiar with what all-natural gasoline is. It is the things we use to heat our properties and gas power plants throughout the point out.

But now, with the stroke of a pen and a vote, the 22-member team charged with developing New York’s road map to a carbon-free of charge overall economy has transformed the identify of all-natural fuel to “fossil fuel.”

The new identify emerged back in December when members of the state’s appointed Weather Action Council agreed to use the expression in their draft scoping plan which is a highway map to thoroughly clean electrical power in the coming years. The program lays out preliminary approaches and policies for producing large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050, as outlined in a 2019 regulation, the Local climate Leadership and Group Protection Act.

The draft system refers to fossil fuel in a range of contexts.

“The huge the vast majority of existing fossil gasoline clients (residential, industrial, and industrial) will changeover to energy by 2050,” reads aspect of the plan that calls for electrification of properties — that is utilizing electrical energy instead than fuel to heat properties, workplaces, educational institutions and industrial spaces.

The go has not occur without the need of some controversy. And it is an case in point of how language and semantics enjoy a function in discussions about weather alter and how to overcome it.


There are some technological causes for altering the terminology. Normal gas, for instance, is in reality a fossil fuel.

But making use of the expression fossil gas somewhat than pure fuel could also be observed as aspect of a much larger work to sell the state’s thoroughly clean strength options to the community.

As policymakers enact an ambitious shift towards renewable power this kind of as photo voltaic and wind, New Yorkers will see alterations — in the forms of automobiles they travel, the way they ability their households and most likely in their power bills, which will probable increase, at minimum in the limited phrase, owing to the modifications.

With that in mind, the language utilized to describe these alterations is essential in convincing the broader community that the price tag is worthwhile in get to fight worldwide warming.

Council users reaffirmed that strategy in the course of a meeting final month when they voted to swap the phrase fossil gasoline for pure gasoline in a chapter about infrastructure these types of as pipelines in the draft scoping plan.

“They mentioned, and I agree, that calling gasoline ‘clean’ or ‘zero emissions’ or ‘natural’  is deceptive. They even more recommended calling gas ‘fossil gas’ rather than ‘natural gas,’ ” described Robert Howarth, a Cornell University ecology and biology professor who serves on the Local climate Motion Council. The preliminary recommendation, he stated, arrived from a subcommittee of the CAC.

“We have agreed that ‘fossil gas’ is considerably less misleading than ‘natural fuel,’ ” he reported in an e-mail.

Not everyone on the CAC agreed, although.
 
“The phrase ‘fossil gas’ does not exist anyplace in any regulatory document,” claimed Gavin Donohue, president and CEO of the Unbiased Energy Producers of New York, which represents power plants, numerous of which are gas-powered.

Switching conditions from “natural” to “fossil” will be bewildering and deceptive to a lot of customers of the general public, Donohue mentioned. 

That’s in particular important, he extra, due to the fact the general public hearings more than the draft scoping program have just started off.

“My problem was that we’ve bought to end introducing new terminology. That was my stress,” explained another CAC member, Dennis Elsenbeck, president of Viridi Parente, which would make electric battery packs to power heavy gear like front-conclusion loaders.

“The pure gas program is one thing that everyone is common with. I think fossil fuel seems more alarming than normal gasoline,” Elsenbeck extra.

Elsenbeck, Donohue and Donna DeCarolis, who runs the National Fuel gasoline distribution business in western New York, have been the only customers of the CAC to vote against the name change.

General public perceptions

But there is study that suggests the wording employed to describe a particular variety of gasoline impacts the general public perception.

“The American community perceives ‘natural gas’ considerably additional favorably (76% favorable) than other fossil fuels like oil (51% ) or coal (39%),” in accordance to a 2020 survey by the Yale College plan on Local climate Transform Interaction.

“Overall, ‘natural gas’ produced the most associations to themes like electricity, clean, gasoline, and cooking,” surveyors found. 

This survey in contrast the time period “natural” fuel to “methane” fuel. Methane is the important element of purely natural fuel.

Surveyors also found partisan discrepancies when they requested about the term “fossil gas” which had a significantly much more adverse picture amid Democrats than Republicans.

Both way, persons expressed far more favourable feelings towards the term pure gasoline.

“I consider fossil gasoline sounds a lot more alarming than organic fuel,” stated Elsenbeck.

“There’s a notion in the public that pure gasoline is a lot more benign than, let’s say, coal or oil,” included Jeffrey Freedman, a investigate affiliate at the College at Albany’s Atmospheric Sciences Investigate Center.



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