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Leakage Outweighs the Benefits of Natural Gas Usage

Natural Gas Well
Natural Gas Well

Natural gas, for some, may be the solution to curbing US petroleum imports and reducing greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions. Natural gas is being used in power plants, which are much cleaner than coal-fired plants, as well as in vehicles.

Increasing the number of vehicles that run on compressed natural gas [CNG] might seem like a good idea, but it could all be for nothing if the emissions at extraction and production facilities aren’t being curbed.

Climate change brought on by increased human greenhouse gas emissions, especially since the beginning of the industrial age, is weighing heavily on the minds of many, while others turn a blind eye to the problem. Leakage during the production of natural gas, the main component of which is methane, could actually be a worse contributor to GHG emissions than the carbon dioxide [CO2] that results from burning it.

As a greenhouse gas, methane [CH4] is about twenty times more potent than CO2, and it is being released into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Natural gas is normally found alongside fossil fuel deposits, including petroleum and coal, and is often just vented or flared. Natural gas extraction in Colorado could be leaking as much as 4% of its natural gas production, according to a study completed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] and the University of Colorado at Boulder [UCB]. A natural gas field in Utah could be leaking as much as 9% of its production.

Some leakage is bound to occur, and estimates earlier were about 2.4%, slightly less than the 3.2% stipulated by Princeton University researchers for environmental costs and benefits. If natural gas leakage is as high as NOAA and UCB are estimating, or higher, than increasing production and utilization is actually going to be worse for the environment than doing nothing at all about our coal-plant and vehicle emissions.

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