In 2019, Southern California Gas Company painted a rosy picture of the natural gas it was selling to its customers. On its website, in online advertisements, and on inexpensive gifts such as hats and T-shirts, the utility touts natural gas as “affordable, clean, and renewable.”

Now, SoCalGas will likely pay thousands of dollars in fines over those claims, according to a settlement agreement California Attorney General Rob Bonta made the announcement this week.

“SoCalGas should have known better than to circulate unqualified claims that all natural gas is ‘renewable,'” Bonta said in a statement. statement,

Most natural gas – including most of the gas sold by SoCalGas to its customers – is a type of fossil fuel. composed mainly of methane, Burning it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, warming the planet. A similar fuel called biomethane, which can be used from landfills and agricultural operations, is generally considered renewable, although few sources of biomethane exist. environmental justice concerns,

The contribution of renewable natural gas is even less. 0.2 percent of total US natural gas production last year, and less than 5 percent of the gas delivered to customers by SoCalGas by the end of 2022. Experts say that at most, renewable natural gas will only be able to displace 16 percent Current Natural Gas Consumption

SoCalGas’ statements “may have misled consumers into thinking that SoCalGas’ natural gas is superior to environmentally harmful fossil fuels,” read one Complaint Filed last week on behalf of California residents, from the attorney general’s office. The complaint also flagged marketing materials touting natural gas as “safe,” “clean” and “good for the economy.”

In fact, natural gas may be worse for the climate than other fuels, thanks leaking methane throughout its supply chain. methane, a greenhouse gas 84 to 86 times more potent Natural gas is continually leaking into the atmosphere from pipelines, compressor stations and other infrastructure, compared to carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. It is also released through venting and glitteringwhich occurs when oil and gas explorers intentionally release unwanted fuel from their production sites.

according to a Analysis With methane leakage rates as low as 0.2 percent, natural gas could have the same climate impact as coal, according to environmental think tank RMI. Globally, experts estimate that the rate of methane leakage will be around 1.7 percentAlthough in some places it can be as high as 3.7 percent,

The proposed settlement, which is still pending court approval, would resolve allegations that SoCalGas violated California consumer protection laws. If approved, SoCalGas would have to pay a $175,000 fine, half of which would be directed to a small grant program from the California Environmental Protection Agency. The utility would be prohibited from making “uniform unqualified statements” that natural gas is renewable, and would have to publish a “corrective statement” on its website clarifying that the majority of its portfolio consists of “non-renewable natural gas derived from fossil fuels.” Gas is included.

In response to Grist’s request for comment, SoCalGas said it is “committed to rapidly providing renewable natural gas and other clean fuels to its customers.” A spokeswoman said the utility aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 “in our operations and energy delivery,” including emissions from fuel sold by SoCalGas.

Activists, regulators and policy makers in other jurisdictions have also recently sought to stop greenwashing related to natural gas. For example, earlier this year in Seattle, advocacy groups successfully lobbied the waste hauler W.M. remove branding telling its trucks that they were “powered by renewable natural gas.” Lawmakers in Oregon have called on the state’s Department of Justice to do the same. check a regional utility’s claims about “renewable natural gas”, and in Washington, D.C., a first case of its kind was filed last year which stated “green washingFor the utility Washington Gas calls its natural gas “clean and efficient”.

Some experts and environmental groups are also indifferent to the term “natural gas”: the term “natural” is a misnomer, as per RMI, “suggests its alignment with sustainability goals.” Many advocacy groups prefer to use the term “methane gas,” Or “fossil gas,

Nihal Srinath, an associate attorney with the Sierra Club, said holding SoCalGas accountable was “encouraging.” “A troubling pattern is emerging,” he told Grist. “While SoCalGas faces fines for apparent greenwashing, it continues to mislead customers with greenwashing projects, by pushing ‘renewable’ natural gas and questionable hydrogen projects.”

The $175,000 fine, he added, “is far less than the environmental and public health costs of burning and transporting the gas, compared to the practices promoted by SoCalGas’s false advertising and promotion.”

editor’s Note: The Sierra Club is an advertiser of Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

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