Climate Danger from Natural Gas  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Chris Vernon has a look at the impact on global warming of natural gas extraction - Climate Danger from Natural Gas.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece (Natural gas, the green choice?) for The Oil Drum looking at the climate change implications of using gas rather than coal. Burning gas to produce electricity produces only around 40% the CO2 emissions of burning coal. However, since methane (CH4) is itself a potent greenhouse gas, its release to the atmosphere without being burnt can quickly compensate for this CO2 advantage against coal. I included this chart to illustrate the point:

On the left, CO2 emissions per kWh for coal and natural gas. On the right, the global warming potential of leaked CH4 expressed as CO2

The key take-away was that if the natural gas leak rate is 3%, the global warming potential of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from gas is equivalent to coal. The details behind the chart are in the original article.

This week the journal Nature has an article (Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field) presenting measurements from a gas field and suggesting that “Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.”
Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. ...

Gas is often described as the ‘cleaner’ choice, as a transitional energy source between coal and low-carbon renewables. Gas does burn without emitting the oxides of sulphur (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx), traces of mercury, selenium and arsenic, as well as the particulates associated with coal and doesn’t leave the non-combustible slag. Despite this it is increasingly unclear that gas has a significantly lower climate impact and the fracking process itself is not as clean as conventional gas extraction.

This figure of 4%, their range is 2.3–7.7% loss, with a best guess of 4%, is well inside the danger zone suggesting gas has similar, if not higher, climate impact as coal.


Transitions...I understand shift from coal to natural gas is a lateral move at best for world resources and CO2 mitigation.
But using coal with CCS mitigation makes the shift look like a golden ticket.

While, I agree natural gas conversions will not solve or CO2 pandemic or reliance of fossil fuels... there are vast benefits of natural gas on health and mortality.

There is inarguable data on the millions of lives lost and health cost impacts surrounding the use of coal, diesel and gasoline as power sources.

There is equal inarguable data that converting transport and stationary power sources to natural gas would eliminate or vastly improve those numbers.

This is NOT and endorsement for natural gas as a silver bullet, but a transition fuel during our migration from fossil fuel drivin economies until "viable" options are on the table.

You and I both know it is going to be a long hard trail and if we have to make some compromises, it might as well be with a source that has the potential to save or improve millions of lives during the transition.

Great to see you back!

@EHS Director But if methane leakage is more than around 5%, looking at that graph, even CCS on natural gas leaves it pretty even-stevens with coal.

And CCS is about pumping CO2 into what is essentially a geological black-box. There are no guarantees it won't start fizzing back up (especially if those guarantees come from hydrocarbon geologists)

Compromises are fine, but grasping nettles is sometimes the better way in the long run. And this is a long run game...

Thanks for the feedback Martin.
Just to clarify my point "that emissions form vehicles and turbines drive by nat. gas vs coal/oil offer overwhelming health benefits to society".
NOT to the storage or mitigation of the sources. Obliviously methane is a HUGE if not larger concern in scale than CO2.

My point may also have hinted that I some how support or have a hint of faith in CCS... I do not. And often post in the impossible odds against it being viable ever.

I strongly support and have a national plan to eliminate all coal and conventional nuclear plants by 2030... we will be required to have most of them decommissioned or replaced by that time anyway, so it is a practical and obtainable goal.

Natural gas for fleets is simply a "drop in" fuel for now replacement until we have renewable sufficient to support either electrifying our transport and logistics needs or a implausible renewable liquid replacement for oil. But remember the US military is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels, and I see no easy replacement for jets, tanks or 90% of the fleet. It is imperative for world peace we work together, that we run our nations daily transport, logistics and stationary needs from alternative sources as soon as possible.

And as a team Martin, I think it is a game we can win together.

Thanks again, I really appreciate you perspective

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