I think a lot of people including environmentalists differ on the value of natural gas in a carbon constrained future. What role if any should natural gas play in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions? Some people call natural gas “clean”. T Boone Pickens has a plan to replace the oil used for our cars with “clean burning” natural gas. If you look at a bus powered by natural gas drive by, it says “clean natural gas” on the outside. People argue natural gas is less carbon intensive than coal, but how much less? There are different forms of natural gas too, including Liquified Natural Gas(LNG). How much of a difference does that make in the environmental impact of natural gas versus coal or oil? What impact does the extraction of natural gas have on the environment?
This is going to be the first and shortest part of a 3 part series of posts about natural gas. The post will show the contrast in the environmental community when it comes to the role of natural gas. The next post will investigate the facts hidden amongst all the smoke and mirrors, and look at the proclaimed facts of natural gas from an environmental and national security standpoint. The last post will be my opinion on the matter, which will reference information from the previous posts.
I’ve been thinking about the role of natural gas for awhile now, ever since I saw the T Boone Pickens commercials. At the Powershift 2009 conference I was at, I attended an informational session about natural gas. It was very useful, however all the facts were brought to me by groups strongly opposed to the use of natural gas. What’s finally convinced me to write this series is two posts I saw on different environmental blogs. One was talking about the havoc being wrought by the third fossil fuel. The other discussed the incredible potential for the current natural gas plants we have to supplant 93% of coal power in the country. Completely different stories from completely dedicated environmentalists.
Here’s a couple key paragraphs from the anti-natural gas writer
“An imported fossil fuel originating in the same regions of the world as large oil reserves, LNG is extracted through essentially the same procedures used for oil drilling. Victims of LNG extraction include salmon runs and gray whale habitat around Russia’s Sakhalin Island, and the rainforest ecosystems of the Peruvian Amazon. Natural gas extracted from these and other parts of the globe is then super-cooled to liquid form and shipped by tanker to energy-hungry countries where it is re-gasified and pumped through underground pipelines to the plant where it will finally be burned for fuel. This long, energy-intensive process increases the carbon footprint of LNG considerably. According to Oregon Department of Energy, LNG shipped from far enough away comes with a carbon footprint approximately equal to that of coal.”
“Those of us in the frontline zone of natural gas’ expansion need the national and international climate movements to realize that the third fossil has the potential to wreck almost as much devastation as oil or coal. It certainly won’t even get us close to carbon neutrality. As Congress and the Obama Administration finally take a hard look at (maybe….someday) implementing meaningful climate policy, we’re already seeing how agrofuel giants, the nuclear industry, carbon traders, and others will try to turn any climate policy into just another economic opportunity for polluters. The false solutions energy giants will try to use to preserve themselves are already many and varied. You can add the third fossil fuel to that list.”
And from the pro-gas writer..
“If we never built another gas-fired power plant, but simply increased the annual capacity factor of the gas fleet up to the coal fleet’s 68% capacity factor, it would generate an additional 1,845,485,000 MWh, effectively displacing 93% of our coal fleet without the construction of a single new power plant. Looking at the comparative CO2-signatures of those two fleets, that would reduce total power sector CO2 emissions by 37%. Since the power sector is responsible for 42% of U.S. CO2 emissions, that implies a 16% reduction in total U.S. CO2 emissions, just from changing generator dispatch order. That’s a massive opportunity. What would it take to get there?”
“Of course this isn’t a panacea. You can’t get to the end game only with gas any more than you can get to the end game only with solar. It’ll take a lot of steps. But what’s fascinating about this analysis is that the gas fleet is uniquely able to quickly and—at least initially—quite cheaply make a huge dent in our CO2 emissions. It’s a tool we ought to use, and we ought to examine our proposed CO2 regulations carefully to make sure it gets put to use. Free allowances to coal plants don’t get you there …”
**Update 6/6/09**: Part 2 is here