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ORANGE, CA - JUNE 11: Blue flames rise from the burner of a natural gas stove June 11, 2003 in Orange, California. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying as an energy expert, told a U.S. House committee June 10 that high natural gas prices resulting from increased demand and shrinking domestic production are here to stay and may potentially drive U.S. industry overseas. A cold winter is being blamed for depleting wells and raising the price of natural gas to more than twice what it cost two years ago. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Gas Spikes, Coal Slips

Natural gas is now officially more important than coal when it comes to electric power generation.

The shift, several years in the making, is profound in a number of respects. It is the end result of a massive increase in U.S. natural gas supplies as a result of new shale gas tapping technologies.

Here is the official stat: In April, 31 percent of electric power was generated by generating units burning natural gas - and 30 percent came from coal-burning units, according to news reports based on U.S. Energy Department data.

The shift is important in the attempt to battle climate change, since natural gas emits about half the carbon emissions of coal.

The issue is complex, though, and environmentalists are concerned about the impact of gas-extracting fracking on water and the environment - and other issues. Yet, as one New York Times columnist opines this week, "...the responsible approach is not to wish it away, but to exploit its benefits while straightforwardly addressing its problems.'

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