Yazmyn Pelaez

The Dirty Truth Behind Methane ‘Natural’ Gas

The fossil fuel industry has spent billions obscuring the role that methane gas – also known as natural gas – plays in fueling the climate crisis and polluting our air quality. Methane gas is marketed to our communities as a clean energy source for heating our homes, buildings, and water. Even the word “natural” in natural gas misleads consumers. But we know methane gas is a dangerous climate pollutant that doesn’t belong in homes. 

Nevada has set ambitious climate targets for reducing our state’s dependence on fossil fuels, and accelerating our transition to clean energy. While we are expected to meet our renewable energy goal of 50% clean energy by 2030, we are not on track to achieve our goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Achieving this target will require us to significantly reduce our use of fossil fuels, including methane gas. For the sake of our health, our climate, and our economy, Nevadans are demanding action to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Below, we dig into the dirty truth behind methane gas.

What is methane gas? 

Methane gas, also known as natural gas, is a harmful fossil fuel and a dangerous greenhouse gas pollutant. 

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. methane gas is obtained through the destructive process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. This process pollutes groundwater and surface water. It also destroys wild land and wildlife.

Methane is a climate pollutant. 

Methane will do 84 times more damage to the climate than the same amount of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years of its lifespan. Although carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere longer, methane has a greater near-term warming potential. Methane from human actions is responsible for more than 25 percent of today’s warming.

According to a major climate report from the United Nations last year, cutting methane emissions is the quickest way to slow climate change in the near term. The report also found that expanding the use of methane gas is incompatible with limiting warming to safer levels. 

Methane is a threat to health.

Methane gas is commonly burned in homes for heating and cooking and there is a high chance you own or regularly use a gas appliance. Many stovetops, heaters, and clothes dryers run on gas – but these appliances pollute indoor and outdoor air quality. Burning methane gas releases dangerous levels of pollutants linked to higher rates and severity of asthma, lung disease, heart disease, learning deficits, and even premature death. 

Gas stoves are an especially dangerous source of indoor air pollution. Studies show that 90% of all homes have unhealthy levels of nitrogen dioxide, a dangerous air pollutant, after cooking with gas for just one hour. Children with growing lungs are especially vulnerable to this pollution – in fact, children living in homes with gas stoves are 42% more likely to suffer asthma symptoms. 

In addition to polluting indoor air quality, gas stoves leak unburned methane directly into homes. A groundbreaking study from Stanford earlier this year found that the rate of methane leaks from gas stoves is much higher than understood – and that the majority of these leaks are happening when the stove is off. Electric appliances, powered by clean energy, can replace gas and eliminate this source of toxic air pollution in our homes.

Pollution from methane gas does not impact all Nevadans equally. Those most at risk include lower-income families, people of color, indigenous communities, families that rent their homes, children, and senior citizens.

  • Low-income families, people of color, and indigenous communities are more likely to have older gas appliances and poor ventilation in their home – which increases the risk of health impacts from air pollution. These communities are also less likely to have  access to affordable, quality healthcare.
  • Renters seldom have the ability to choose the appliances in their homes, and the  available appliances are often outdated or poorly maintained. Many homes, especially rental units, do not have proper ventilation.
  • Children are most vulnerable to air pollution from gas appliances. Children breathe at a faster rate, increasing their exposure to dangerous air pollutants that can have a severe and long-lasting impact on their lungs. 
  • Senior Citizens are more likely to spend more time indoors with unmaintained gas appliances polluting their indoor air. They are also vulnerable to the health impacts from methane gas pollution due to possible pre-existing conditions.

Nevada suffers more premature deaths annually due to pollution from gas burned at stationary sources (homes, buildings, factories, and power plants) than it does from coal-related pollution, according to a study from Harvard University. 

Time to move away from methane.

Fortunately, Nevadans do not have to continue to rely on methane gas for heating and cooking in our homes. By transitioning homes to electric appliances, like heat pumps and induction cooktops, we can eliminate this source of climate and air pollution, while increasing the use of locally-produced clean energy resources, like solar. Nevadans strongly support the investments needed to accelerate our transition to clean energy: 80% of registered voters in Nevada support investments in clean energy jobs and 76% support bold, ambitious federal climate action.

Investing in our homegrown solar, wind, and geothermal energy is the truly reliable and clean choice for powering our homes and buildings. Clean, zero-emission appliances are safer, more efficient, and better for our health and our environment.

Act now for our air, our health, and our environment. 

Urge state officials to end our reliance on polluting methane gas in homes. Nevada’s climate targets include reaching 100% clean electricity and zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We can reach this goal if state leaders listen to Nevadans by investing in locally-produced renewable energy, and supporting the transition to clean energy homes and buildings. The time to act is now!

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