Rock and a hard place

Energy, advertising and the storage of natural gas

Find the environmental impact report here.
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

We, the 2 million humans in the Sacramento area, consume a lot of energy. Because we live in a basin, coal or oil would cause air-quality problems. So we use natural gas to keep the lights on, as well as renewable energy sources such as hydropower, solar and wind.

All energy sources have pluses and minuses, risks and opportunities. One may cause pollution problems, another may be costly and yet another may only function during certain times of day. To maintain a steady level of energy, we need to evaluate all of our options and then pick the best mix for our region.

The natural-gas storage facility proposed for Sacramento is such a dilemma. Do we really need it? Is it safe? Are there alternatives that are feasible and cost-effective? When we evaluate this plan, we also need to weigh the risks of continuing to operate without a local storage facility.

Because SMUD gets over half of its energy from natural gas, our power supply is at risk from interruptions in the pipeline. From time to time, high demand has caused brownouts. And without a reservoir as backup, our energy costs are vulnerable to fluctuations in price.

Recently, by chance, I ran into the president of Sacramento Natural Gas Storage, Don Russell. He mentioned to me that he was frustrated by what he believes is a public misunderstanding of his proposal to build the Florin Gas Field natural-gas storage facility. This plan has generated controversy, particularly concerns about the potential significant impact from gas leaking from the underground reservoir.

Since I am in the business of selling advertisements, I suggested that print advertising in general (in SN&R in particular) would be an excellent way for him to explain his company’s position. As those of you who have a television know painfully well, billions of dollars are spent on television ads. But where TV is great at conveying emotion, it is a terrible way to explain issues in depth. (This makes it a wonderful media for attack ads.)

Newspapers are the reverse. It’s hard to communicate emotion in print, but it’s a great medium for explaining a complicated issue.

So Don Russell and the people at Sacramento Natural Gas Storage have created an eight-page advertising insert that you can read in this issue of SN&R. It presents in detail the facts and the myths about the proposed underground natural-gas reservoir. Yes, my company benefited from the sale of this insert. But that doesn’t stop me from arriving at my own opinion on this issue. After reading their documentation and studying the environmental impact report, I have come to believe that if you compare the possible safety risks of an interruption in the natural-gas flow to the minimal risks of utilizing this natural reservoir 3,800 feet underground, you will agree that we should support the building of the Florin Gas Field natural-gas storage facility.