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By Ernest Scheyder
WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) - Natural gas can be a permanent solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and curbing climate change, and not just a step toward full utilization of renewable energy technologies, industry executives said on Tuesday.
Once thought of as a clean alternative to crude oil, natural gas has come under attack by environmentalists who want to curb the use of all fossil fuels in a bid to hasten the adoption of solar, wind and other green energies.
"This idea of natural gas as a transition fuel to renewables is strange," Total SA Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said Tuesday at the World Gas Conference in Washington. "Natural gas is a solution (to climate change). It's been scientifically proven."
Pouyanne's views were echoed by others who joined him on industry panel, including executives from ConocoPhillips , BP Plc, Equinor Asa and Qatar Petroleum.
"We don't believe the existential threat to our business is right around the corner," Conoco CEO Ryan Lance said. "We see rising usage of natural gas."
Qatar Petroleum, which is undertaking a major project to expand its natural gas output by a third over the next decade, said it sees demand only growing for its product.
"Human beings need energy. Gas should be seen as a destination fuel not just as a transport fuel or bridge fuel," QP Chief Executive Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi said at the conference.
Bob Dudley, the CEO of BP Plc, which is rapidly expanding its U.S. shale gas production, said the fuel is the best alternative to coal-fired power generation in many locations, with improving technologies helping to curb methane emissions.
A study released last week from the Environmental Defense Fund found that oil and gas drilling gives off far more of the powerful greenhouse gas methane than the U.S. government estimates as leaky wells go unnoticed by federal regulators.
Dudley acknowledged the industry should and is doing more to use better technologies to bolster methane collection.
"The industry has a problem and the whole industry has to have a better reputation," Dudley said. "I'm confident on the work we're doing."
Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by David Gregorio