A press release issued by the U.S. Department of Energy on May 28, 2019 has garnered widespread criticism for its use of the phrases “freedom gas” and “molecules of freedom” to describe natural gas. The release, which announced the approval of additional natural gas exports from the Freeport LNG Terminal in Texas, drew attention for two controversial quotes:

  • From U.S. Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes: “Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.”
  • From Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg: “I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world.”

The connection between natural gas and freedom seems to have originated with U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who, on May 2, described a move to export more liquified natural gas to Europe as “the United States …again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent.” In response to a EURACTIV reporter’s question of whether he would describe the exports as “freedom gas,” Perry said, “So yes, I think you may be correct in your observation.” 

The effort to rebrand fossil fuels had brought both criticism and mockery from the media and climate scientists. Grist noted its place in a historical trend of “giv[ing] fossil fuels a makeover” with phrases like “clean coal” and “ethical oil.” Climate scientist Michael E. Mann tweeted “and I hereby brand solar energy “photons of freedom”.molecules move at the rate of molecular diffusion.photons move at the speed of light.” Slate noted that “spreading freedom gas sounds like what happens when you’re newly single and suddenly have the apartment to yourself.”

Even the phrase “clean natural gas” has been a long-time effort to greenwash what is in fact a substance that causes climate change in addition to increased rated of cardio-respiratory disease in surrounding communities. We must continue to call out these marketing schemes and push for true climate action.

 by Ally Bell, 350 Bay Area Contributing Writer