It's Official: 'Freedom Gas' Is the Worst Phrase of the Year

Illustration for article titled It's Official: 'Freedom Gas' Is the Worst Phrase of the Year
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The Trump administration has plumbed the depths of the English language from the president’s recent large turd obsession to an advisor who compared the “demonization of carbon dioxide” to the Holocaust to Ryan Zinke telling a protestor, “I’d like to see your child fight for energy” (which weird flex but okay). Truly, these are all terrible and terribly stupid things to say.


But in the lexicon of the Trump administration, we now have the definitive word on what the worst phrase is. On Tuesday, the Plain English Foundation declared “freedom gas” the worst words of the year. The group bills itself as “the authority in clear communication,” and I have no reason to doubt this as their word choice is inspired.

The Department of Energy included that fateful phrase in a May 2019 press release about natural gas, attributing the phrase to Under Secretary of Energy Mark 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,” Menzes said before talking about “molecules of freedom.”

Honestly, “molecules of freedom” would be my choice for worst phrase of the year. It sounds like the name of a wretched, fascist tribute band of supergroup Atoms for Peace. But alas, I’m just a humble blogger. Let’s hear what Neil James, the executive director of the authority in clear communication, had this to say about their choice:

“When a simple product like natural gas starts being named through partisan politics, we are entering dangerous terrain. Why can’t natural gas just remain natural gas?”


Too true, Neil. Too true.

This isn’t even the administration’s first flirtation with freedom fuels. Last year, then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC that American fracked gas was the “kind of freedom that is priceless.” Mastercard, eat your heart out.


But while Trump’s toilet riff is kinda funny (aside from having to think about our president taking a 15-flush dump), the attempt to rebrand natural gas as some kind of patriotic duty is an Orwellian nightmare. The U.S. has flooded the world with natural gas over the past decade or so thanks to advances in fracking. This is hardly liberating. Instead, it’s made the world more dependent on gas with many utilities infrastructure meant to last for decades.

Extracting and burning natural gas releases carbon dioxide and methane, a greenhouse gas that’s way more potent than carbon dioxide (and which the Trump administration wants to deregulate). The more the world burns, the more it worsens the climate emergency. Again, not exactly freedom.


In fact, if we’re going to rebrand natural gas, how about make it “unnatural gas” for the world it’s creating. Or “terror gas” if we want to get a little spicier. You know, on second thought let’s forget all about it and leave it in the ground.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.


Dense non aqueous phase liquid

“Fugitive emissions” may be apropo - given the recent news.  

Useless fun fact:

The term natural gas is used because previously gas was manufactured from coal. Around the late 1800s to the mid 1900s gaseous hydrocarbons were used predominantly for lighting. Simplistically, coal was heated in a retort vessel (without air/oxygen). The retort off-gas was then collected, pressurized, and piped to users.

It wasn’t’ until around the second world war someone in the oil patch said, “Hey Cletus, instead of venting and flaring all this associated gas from the oil well, why don’t we collect it and sell it. We’ll call it natural.” Not really true. Forced air heating with natural gas took America by storm by the 1940s.

Tracking natural gas production in US from 1900 to now:

The 1940 to 1970s rise was due to pushing coal out for heating. The 2005 to now rise is due to shale gas and pushing coal out for electricity generation.