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Energy Realism: Climate Campaigners Cheer Shale Gas Revolution

Environmental advocates call switch from coal to shale gas a victory in the fight against climate change.

A huge reservoir of natural gas trapped in shale rock deep beneath Ohio holds the promise of a fresh supply of cheap energy and thousands of new jobs.

But what does it mean to the state’s coal industry?

Environmental groups cheered on Oct. 14 when Vancouver, Wash.-based Baard Energy announced it was switching gears from coal to natural gas to produce diesel and jet fuel at a proposed refinery in Columbiana County.

Environmental advocates called the switch a victory in the fight against climate change. A natural-gas refinery would produce 75 percent less carbon dioxide, a key climate-change gas.

“It’s a significant environmental improvement,” said Shannon Fisk, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council advocacy group.

It also was a setback for Ohio coal interests. The refinery would have required as much as 9 million tons of coal each year, about one-third of what Ohio’s mines produced in 2009.

Power companies, including Columbus-based American Electric Power, also are burning more natural gas instead of coal to generate electricity. AEP’s use of gas-fired power plants more than doubled from 2010 through 2011, according to spokeswoman Melissa McHenry. [….]

John Baardson, a Baard Energy consultant, said switching from coal to natural gas at the proposed plant makes economic sense. He said the switch also will cut the cost to build the plant from an estimated $6.5 billion to $3.5 billion.

Lem Smith, Ohio director for the American Natural Gas Alliance, said the increasing supply of gas could persuade power companies to use it more often to generate electricity.

“We believe it’s a game-changer,” Smith said.

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