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Count U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research researchers among those questioning the value of switching to natural gas as a “bridge” fuel from greenhouse-gas-intensive coal to a clean energy future.

[NCAR researcher] Wigley's computer simulations indicate that a worldwide, partial shift from coal to natural gas would slightly accelerate climate change through at least 2050, even if no methane leaked from natural gas operations, and through as late as 2140 if there were substantial leaks. After that, the greater reliance on natural gas would begin to slow down the increase in global average temperature, but only by a few tenths of a degree.

Along with the Cornell study and EPA analysis, 2011 may be the year that shows that — far from a bridge — natural gas is actually a detour on the road to a clean energy economy.