Climate Benefits of Natural Gas Overstated?

Natural gas production has skyrocketed in the U.S. and elsewhere lately. And one big supposed benefit of this energy source is that it creates a lot fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal. However, new research from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that these climate change claims may have been greatly overstated.

ProPublic, in a very lengthy piece titled Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated, reports:

Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future. But those assumptions are based on emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and don’t account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.

The EPA’s new analysis doubles its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells, drastically changing the picture of the nation’s emissions that the agency painted as recently as April. Calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent. Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

When all these emissions are counted, gas may be as little as 25 percent cleaner than coal, or perhaps even less.

Of course, beyond the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas, there are a number of significant environmental problems associated with modern-day “natural” gas that we should be aware and concerned of. Becky Striepe of GreenUPGRADER writes:

Natural gas is sometimes touted as a clean fuel source. What folks are discovering, though, is that the process for extracting natural gas is far from clean.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is a technique for extracting hard to reach natural gas deposits. We’re starting to learn that the chemicals used in this process have serious public health and environmental issues. New data links fracking to problems from water contamination to tainted beef cattle.

Some homeowners are seeing dramatic issues with their contaminated water. Check out this video of flammable tap water from a sink near fracking operations:

Natural gas, while probably still a better option than coal, is not clean energy. If we want to go clean, we should really leapfrog this one and go straight to solar and wind.

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