Just say “HELL NO!” to paleo swamp gas

A few weeks ago I attempted chiles rellenos for the first time. If you’ve never had them, they are roasted and skinned peppers (often poblanos) that are de-seeded, then stuffed with something, often cheese in the United States, then battered and fried, and served with a savory-spicy tomato broth/sauce. Mine didn’t come out that pretty but it was an experience and they were delicious! I used the recipe from a Diana Kennedy book.

One thing that had always held me back was how to roast peppers. It’s not something I bother to do often and most books recommend an open flame which we don’t really have at home since we have an electric stove – and most of my adult life I’ve only had electric stoves. We got a decent crop of poblanos this year in the garden so I had to try them as they are a family favorite. So I looked up alternate ways and a broiler works really well: you put them on a sheet pan (no oil!) under the broiler until blistered, then turn over and let the other side blister. Note that part about a sheet pan – you can do a fairly large number all at once! See my lovely peppers:

A bowl of roasted and skinned poblanos and small sweet red and yellow peppers
A bowl . roasted and skinned poblanos along with some small yellow and red sweet peppers (also roasted and skinned)

What does this have to do with “paleo swamp gas”? Seattle City Council-member Mike O’Brien has proposed to ban natural gas installation in new housing and commercial development (see summary from SCC Insight). “But what about my charred peppers [eggplants, etc]?” was one of the immediate refrains.

But obviously the various cooking objections are absurd. It’s trivially easy to use something other than a gas flame to heat tortillas (ever heard of cast iron or specifically a comal?) or to roast and char using electric cooking equipment. Even if it weren’t possible to find perfect substitutes (though I’d argue a broiler is better for roasting peppers than a gas flame), the reflexive objection is asserting that a particular cooking technique is more important than reducing the water and air pollution from natural gas. Most of Seattle’s natural gas comes from fracking which is particularly polluting and natural gas burning for heating and cooking is about a quarter of the city’s direct carbon emissions.

Our house does have gas piped to it. When we bought the place it had a large (and loud) gas heater in the kitchen that could blow warm air into the kitchen and living room.  The stove, though, was already electric  – a cheap coil burner stove we’re still using. I didn’t much like the idea of burning gas inside the house for any purpose: why would I burn hydrocarbons (“paleo swamp gas”) inside my home which is a semi-sealed environment and inevitably there would be pollutants from it? Plus of course I didn’t see the need to pollute the larger environment and contribute to climate change for heat when there were other options. Since the gas heater was just in one place and not very effective, the house also had electric base board heaters in four other places. We hardly used them because they were inefficient and seemed dangerous to me – they always felt dangerously hot, were hard to clean and used up lots of wall space in our small house.

So we got them all replaced with an electric heat pump. There’s even a Seattle City Light rebate program for it. The heat pump is not only quieter, but it works better since it has multiple blower heads which pushes warm air into more rooms of the house. It can even work “in reverse” and on particularly hot days we can put in the cooling mode. It being Seattle we don’t have to use that feature often.

Despite my talking about roasted peppers and heat pumps, most of the effective opposition won’t be home chefs upset about the idea of fewer gas stoves for tediously charring one pepper at a time. The real opposition is going to come from Puget Sound Energy, which is making money on destroying our children’s future by selling natural gas, and the restaurant industry which largely uses immense gas stoves that run most of the time (during business hours) and for which the electric alternatives are not as well-developed. But why aren’t they as well-developed? Because gas is cheap and the pollution from extraction and use of gas is barely restricted at all.

Oil and gas extraction literally kill in the near term, even in the United States which is better regulated than a lot of the world. I don’t even need to go look for a particular story I read months ago. A quick internet search turns up numerous articles about cases where fracking and extraction industries were leaking and accumulating into family homes or even exploding. Natural gas utilities are routinely, despite state regulatory bodies, negligent causing injury and illness. A quick google search turns one up from five days ago. The largest California gas utility is currently in bankruptcy proceedings due to the costs from their negligently maintained electrical lines causing wildfires. But it’s historically been just as negligent with gas pipelines, notably the San Bruno pipeline explosion.

I don’t really trust Washington gas industry companies or our regulators to be superior to California’s. We also shouldn’t export our pollution by depending on other states or countries to supply natural gas. We should just not use natural gas. We can find other ways. Seattle has the wealth to figure this out and in doing so make it cheaper for other places to say no to burning swamp gas created by dead life from hundreds of millions of years ago. If you live or work in Seattle, please write the city council and mayor in support of O’Brien’s proposal!