Natural gas: A worse greenhouse gas than it's made out to be, says ProPublica
1/27/11 - 2:54 pm
ProPublica, whose reporter Abrahm Lustgarten is currently one of the most prominent critics of hydrofracking in the media, published a long piece yesterday that casts doubt on the purported climate benefits of natural gas. An excerpt:
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.
In addition to new studies from the EPA, Lustgarten's story leans on Cornell professor Robert Howarth, who is currently engaged in an ongoing reserach project to measure emissions from various fossil fuels over their entire lifecycle (meaning, not just the emissions you get from burning the fuel, but also those involved with extraction, transport, etc.).
Based on his research (which, he notes, is still a work in progress), Howarth believes the greenhouse gas emissions associated with natural gas have been vastly underestimated, and that natural gas is potentially on a par with coal in terms of climate impacts. We spoke with Howarth last spring, when he released a preliminary paper on his findings. Here's an excerpt:
WP: You set out to compare the carbon emissions of natural gas to coal and oil. What did you find?
RH: If you look at the Department of Energy's analyses of greenhouse gas emissions from those three fuels, they will say gas is the cleanest and coal is the dirtiest. But that's based on the emissions just from combustion. Energy for digging the pipeline, laying the pipe, trucking the water, hydraulic fracturing, dealing with the waste—those all emit greenhouse gases.
But most important is the release of methane gas. It's hard not to have a little bit of gas leakage when you move stuff over a long distance via a pipeline. The EPA's most recent estimate is 1.5 percent leakage. That's a conservative estimate. We're working on coming up with a better number—and it's going to be higher, frankly.
Reacting to the ProPublica piece in the New York Times's Dot Earth blog yesterday, Andrew Revkin -- a well-known and widely-read environmental and climate reporter -- argues that methane leaks or no, natural gas is still a less risky fuel than coal, and needs to be part of our national energy strategy.
I agree with Christopher Helman over at Forbes who recently wrote that low gas prices mean there’s little to lose by holding up drilling in highly contested areas (the Marcellus Shale here in New York being the prime battle zone) while the E.P.A. review is completed.
But campaigners who fight natural gas altogether, like anyone else immersed in the struggle over an energy policy that works for the long haul, would do well to come up with a real-world game plan for supply sufficient energy to foster human progress while limiting environmental risks.
Photo of Marcellus rig in Lycoming County, PA. From Wikimedia Commons.
|Fresh Bacon, Fresh Chicken, CSA Pickup & Guided Farm Tour Sunday|
|Paid Internship in Farm-Based Education|
|Looking for that perfect piece of property, then you've come to the right place|
|LYON MOUNTAIN BLUE BARN ANTIQUES. Highest Quality - Best Prices|
|20 Acres of Pure Heavenly Delight in Beautiful, Bountiful Bovina|
|$10 SPECIALS- January 10th through 13th|
|$10 SPECIALS February 7, 8, 9, 10|
|$10 specials- BONUS WEEK -February 21,22,23,24|
|$10 specials- January 17, 18, 19, 20|
|$10 specials- January 24, 25, 26 27|
|5 Weekends Left To See Our Little Store.|
|Demystify the Art and Science of Worms Sat. 15 @ 3:00|
|“MARCH MADNESS CRAFT SALE” starting Fri. March 22|
|"Cookies & Caroling” The Commons Christmas Party|
|***ONE MORE WEEK OF HOLIDAY SHOPPING*** at the CATSGUILD|
|NYSDOT doc leaked to un-naturalgas.org: NYS not ready for Marcellus development|
|The Orphic Gallery to present "Record Breaker" by Greg Frederick - Opening May 25th|
|"A-Z of the Transition Process" Workshop|
|"Apps for Home to Support Education" workshop Feb. 7th|
|"Cadosia" to perform acoustic covers of modern indie hits Sat, starting at 5.30 at Eureka in Grahamsville.|
|"Fall Harvest Bounty" Community Dinner prepared by Chefs Paul & Loddie on Saturday, October 20th|
|"Groovin' in the Garden" garners RAVE reviews|
|"Neighbor to Neighbor" Featuring Pete Seeger with Dar Williams, Tom Chapin, Guy Davis, Dan Zanes & MORE!|
|"March Mathness" is Doubling Your Odds: Eat or Drink Free if Your Timing is Right|
|"Sous Chef John" gives First Graders a Restaurant Lesson in Public|
|"Teamwork" Pays Off in Public!|
|"Too Much Information" Monologues From Real Life - Saturday, July 28 8PM|
|2012 Annual Benefit Exhibit - Mixed Bag: Odds &Ends/Ins & Outs|
|2012 WKC Fair/Sunday, Sept. 2, noon to 6pm|
|2013 YOUNG PEOPLE'S THEATER ARTS WORKSHOPS|
|"Very Special Pieces” from our five Show-rooms|
|'Tis the Season|
|12 Days left to submit your film to the CMFF|
|1st Annual - Art and Soul of the Catskills Film Festival - View the VIDEO PROMO|
|163 acre farmstead in low-tax Grahamsville with exceptional views|
|1850s hilltop house on dreamy 15+ acres with fireplace, meadows, woods and stream|
|1st Classic Car Cruise-In in Margaretville this Friday!|
|2014 Great Western Catskills Travel Guide Now Available|