The Best Climate Podcast Returns for Season 6 to Expose the Natural Gas Industry

'Drilled' is back to hold the natural gas industry accountable.



Podcaster and journalist Amy Westervelt is a vocal advocate about the importance of storytelling to understand the climate crisis and spurring people to take action. Her podcast "Drilled"—a "true crime" show about the machinations and misdeeds of the oil industry—is a masterclass in how to frame the climate narrative. Now, "Drilled" is returning for a sixth season.

While previous seasons have largely focused on the oil industry, Season 6 has Big Oil’s closely related cousin in its sights: natural gas. Titled "Bridge to Nowhere," the season is split into three parts and tackles the rise of fracking and the industry's efforts to position gas as a lower carbon bridge fuel, the devastating impact that natural gas operations are having on individuals and communities, as well as the strong link between cheap natural gas and the huge boom in disposable plastic products. 

It’s the latter topic that first caught our attention. As Westervelt explains over email, the fact that the explosion of disposable plastics and the rise of fracking happened simultaneously is very far from an accident.

“Fracking produced a glut of natural gas, but for the most part those companies could never figure out how to turn a profit," says Westervelt. "Then they realized that some of the byproducts of fracking could be cheap feedstocks for plastic and it provided not only a new revenue stream for the gas folks, but also a way to make the petrochemical side of the business more lucrative because the gas feedstocks were much cheaper than oil, which is what they were using before.” 

Given the recent focus within some sustainability circles on avoiding disposable plastics, banning straws, and a push for reusables, we asked Westervelt about our culture’s focus on consumer choices when discussing this problem. True to previous seasons, "Drilled" doesn’t spend too much time exploring the small ways that each of us can "do our part" to reduce plastic use. Instead, it delves into the story as one of corporate power and policy-level decisions that have predetermined how much of society behaves.

Westervelt is adamant this is the only way to effectively take on this thorny topic. “It's very helpful to industry that individuals feel personally responsible for plastic waste, and it taps into a long history—starting with the infamous 'Crying Indian' ad—of companies putting the onus on individuals for cleaning up or avoiding waste, rather than addressing the problem at its source," says Westervelt. "This "solution" assumes that the industry's tale, that it is always and forever simply supplying a demand, is true and that if consumers simply consume less, supply will go down as well. History tells us otherwise.” 

Westervelt points to past efforts at conservation—and how those were deliberately and strategically undermined by corporate strategies—as a cautionary tale for focusing too much on consumer choice as a lever for change.

Amy Westervelt
Amy Westervelt.

“When Americans got good at conserving energy in the 1970s, oil and gas companies looked for ways to get them consuming more," she says. "And despite the reduction in consumer demand for single-use disposable plastics, the oil and gas guys have been talking for years about plastics as one of their escape hatches when demand for oil and gas in transportation and residential sectors dips, and they're continuing to build plastic manufacturing plants even as demand wanes. If the industry is invested in plastic, it will find a way to push the stuff, whether you use a straw or not.” 

While the sheer size and power of the natural gas industry—and the speed at which it has risen—makes the task of transitioning to zero emissions seem daunting, the story of how coal has declined provides a road map for potentially moving past gas too. With cities, states, and even countries considering various forms of natural gas bans, we Westervelt whether we might soon see a coal-like collapse of the natural gas behemoth too.

She isn’t sure we are quite there yet. “It's funny, I heard some leaked tape the other day from a gas industry meeting where they were really having a whine because they're suddenly 'the new coal' after successfully painting themselves as environmental heroes for years," she says. "I still think we're a ways off from gas reaching a coal-type tipping point because the industry is still pushing it as a complement to renewables, so it feels to me like we might see it happen with oil first. One big indicator on that front is just how tough it's become for these guys to get investment lately. Even with the price of oil rebounding a bit post-Covid, the glory days of oil are over, and even oil execs know that.”

Time will tell exactly when natural gas begins to decline in the way of coal, but one thing is fairly certain: The executives pushing it as a solution are not going to be too happy that the one and only Amy Westervelt is on the story.