The phrase “natural gas” gives the impression of it being clean, healthy, or environmentally friendly, but people’s perception of the fossil fuel sours when they learn it is mostly methane. More than three-quarters (77%) of registered voters had a favorable view of “natural gas,” according to a Climate Nexus poll. That number was far higher than voters’ favorable views of methane, and less than one-third knew that “natural gas” is primarily methane, and a majority believed incorrectly that methane pollution is falling or staying about the same.
A peer-reviewed study of public perceptions in the Journal of Environmental Psychology reached concurring conclusions–people responded less positively when the energy source was described for what it actually is – “natural methane gas,” “methane gas,” “fossil gas,” and “fracked gas” as opposed to the industry’s preferred term “natural gas.” While the latter term is not new (it was described as “nature’s gas” in the early 19th century) the gas industry has worked for decades to craft public perceptions of the fossil fuel as a clean alternative to coal, in part by emphasizing the word ‘natural’ to the point of even eliminating ‘gas’ from industry front group names.
The gas industry also contends that continuing to extract and burn gas is part of a net-zero future despite the fact that leaks throughout the drilling and pipeline system emit huge amounts of methane and the gas creates CO2 pollution when burned. (Vox; Industry net-zero claims: Grist, Utility Dive)