Because of an editing error, a story in Friday's Business section indicated that carbon dioxide is produced by methane gas. It should have said that carbon dioxide and methane gas produced by wetlands and animal wastes and other emissions combine to produce the "greenhouse effect." A chart accompanying the article incorrectly represented as percentages the figures for millions of tons of carbon emitted per quadrillion BTU for various energy sources. (Published 7/ 25/88)

One person's pollution can be another person's marketing opportunity.

Natural gas producers and nuclear power interests aren't being crass about it, but they see what may be a small silver lining for them in the thickening cloud of carbon dioxide around the Earth -- the same cloud that is creating the "greenhouse" effect.

Even some environmentalists have found themselves extolling the virtues of natural gas, calling it a relatively efficient and emissions-free energy source when compared with other fossil fuels.

"We believe that discouraging new uses of natural gas is bad energy policy, economically unsound and environmentally damaging," Jessica T. Mathews of the environmental policy group World Resources Institute told Congress last year.

Natural gas produces far less sulfur dioxide -- the apparent culprit in acid rain -- and considerably less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels. As a result, environmentalists and natural gas producers are talking about natural gas as a "bridge fuel." Michael German, vice president of planning and analysis for the American Gas Association, refers to natural gas as a bridge fuel -- the least harmful alternative while the world looks for other, longer-lasting solutions to the "greenhouse" effect.

The value of the greenhouse effect as a marketing tool for gas producers at this point is more potential than immediate.

Officials of trade associations have begun meeting with environmentalists in a major "education" effort, addressing concerns about whether natural gas supplies are abundant enough to make it a useful alternative to other fossil fuels.

Also working in their favor has been the relatively low cost of natural gas, which has been an even more effective tool for persuading utilities to switch to natural gas in recent years.

"I don't think anybody is calling us up and saying, we want to buy gas because it's clean," said Theodore Eck, chief economist for Amoco, a major natural gas producer. "They're buying gas because it's cheap. But a year from now it may be a whole different story."

What the gas producers are hoping for -- and what the electric utilities fear most -- is that government regulators may crack down on the level of carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is the major culprit in Earth's environmentally disastrous warming trend.

Carbon dioxide is produced from rotting underbrush and vegetation in cleared forests, by methane produced by wastelands and by animal wastes, all of which are difficult to control. But the gas also is produced in large quantities by automobiles, industrial plants, and power plants.

All told, worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide more than tripled from 1950 to 1980. If the trend continues, by the year 2030, temperatures could be warm enough to melt ocean-borne ice, raise sea levels, and radically change growing conditions for the world's food supply.

Such ominous predictions pose a potential problem for the producers of all fossil fuels, none more than the producers of coal and oil. Despite technological advances, coal and oil still add mightily to the greenhouse effect.

Industry spokesmen already are in a defensive crouch, reminding that fossil fuels are still the world's most efficient source of energy, and warning against any precipitous new round of environmental regulation.

"We think it would be incredibly shortsighted to begin to base energyNatural gas might be the least harmful alternative while the world looks for a way to solve the greenhouse effect. policy on perceived or alleged or anticipated environmental problems that may be forty or fifty years away -- in particular, in the greenhouse area where there is substantial scientific uncertainty," said Dan Gerkin, senior vice president of the National Coal Association.

Peter K. Mueller, program manager for air quality studies for the Electric Power Institute, points to uncertainties that still surround the greenhouse phenomenon.

The warming of oceans, he admits, might cause oceans to rise. But it also might might increase the evaporation of water which might increase cloud formation and result in cooling.

"With that kind of uncertainty, the managers of the industry really have no basis for planning their plants, their production facilities" around the expected impact of the greenhouse effect, he said.

Bill Moomaw of the World Resources Institute also urges a gradual approach to the greenhouse problem.

"It doesn't make sense to restructure the whole energy side of the economy based on greenhouse," Moomaw said, adding that it does make sense to begin using fossil fuels more efficiently than we are now.

Among the short-term answers: greater energy conservation through more efficient automobiles and buildings; more research into nonfossil sources of energy including thermal and solar; and continuing already significant improvements in the efficiency with which fossil fuels produce energy.

Greater reliance on nuclear energy could also help solve problems associated with air pollution, acid rain, and the greenhouse effect. But that is a remedy most environmentalists find as bad as the disease. Still, the marketing opportunity has not been lost of the much beleaguered nuclear industry."What's troubling me is that a lot of people concerned about {environmental issues} have trouble saying nuclear power," said Harry B. Finger, president of the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness, a nuclear industry association.

Finger said that the industry has made significant improvements in recent years in the amount of radioactive waste it generates, safety, reliability and other areas.

In its midyear report, the U.S. Council strikes an even more hopeful note: "... Concern grows over the unbridled burning of fossil fuels, creating the planet-warming 'greenhouse effect.' Could this also be the year in which environmentalists take another look at nuclear energy as a way to relieve the strain on the atmosphere that comes from burning fossil fuels for electricity production?"