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From the archives: The war between gas and coal

Sun Advocate publisher

Today natural gas to heat a home or cook a meal is seemingly a natural thing, a simple thing, a safe thing.

But it was not always portrayed that way.

Coal interests in eastern Utah often reminded residents that natural gas was not only taking away from their coal mining livelihoods, but also was dangerous.

An article on that point came in the Jan. 29, 1931 issue of the News-Advocate, less than a year before that paper joined forces with The Sun to become The Sun Advocate.

A reporter from the paper, William Ingleheart wrote that he happened to be in Salt Lake City when a store that had just installed natural gas for heating exploded, destroying the establishment and injuring two men, including the owner.

"The claims of natural gas as a fuel received a hard blow last week when an explosion...used in a furnace installation blew up a grocery store," he wrote in the News-Advocate.

He went on to say that the press agent for the gas company was able to convince the Salt Lake Tribune and the Salt Lake Telegraph that the explosion didn't amount to much and "they refused to publish pictures of the blow up and restricted their mention of the matter to an absurd minimum."

At the time there was a war going on between the coal industry and the gas industry for installations along the Wasatch Front. Horror stories of gas leaking into peoples houses and poisoning them were common and anytime, anything went wrong, well the stories spread even more.

"You can rest assured the gas company (men) were on the job bright and early with two or three crews of men endeavoring to erase the traces of the devastation..." he wrote.

He also pointed out that as much as three days later the leak that caused the explosion (supposedly pointed out by the Salt Lake Fire Chief) had still not been found.

The article pointed out that there had also been a number of smaller explosions in Salt Lake, Ogden and other places in the state where gas was in use.

"... (information about) these have mostly been suppressed with considerable skill," he stated in his article.

Then of course the writer came to the point of his article.

"But it is clear that from investigation, especially in Salt Lake, that many who rushed to natural gas under high pressure salesmanship, because of the newness of the thing, because of the astute and almost limitless advertising of gas, are beginning to realize that to have fuel comfort and fuel security, they must use coal."

He then went on to point out that some residents and industries that had initially gone to gas, have come back to coal, although he did not name any specific companies or persons. He also pointed out the amount of money that is generated in payrolls and taxes each year from "a Utah industry."

He ended the article with, "We could go on and on and quote comparative statistics to show how vastly more important coal is to Utah than is gas. Let the purpose of this article be to call attention to the undesirability of gas as a fuel."

The fight about gas and coal for home and business use would go on for years. Eventually most of the metropolitan area would move to natural gas, and then a little over 30 years after the article was written gas would be made available in some areas of Carbon County.

Arguments about taking away miners livelihoods and the advantages of coal over gas would cause a lot of consternation in the 1960s as well.

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