Natural Gas May Speed Climate Change

Posted on 26 February 2012 by Jerry

It is very difficult, even under the best of circumstances, to know which form of energy has the least negative impact on climate change and yet can still be economically efficient.  It is generally understood that natural gas is one of the most widely available, least costly, and cleanest-burning fossil fuels, especially when compared to coal.   New measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) however, indicate that natural gas may have a worse impact on climate change than coal.  This is because a small amount of natural gas (which is 70-90% methane) escaping into our atmosphere from natural gas fields can have a serious negative effect.  We must remember that methane is 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere.  This effect will be amplified in an environment where “Fracking” or hydraulic fracturing of hard shale formations, releases previously unavailable natural gas. 

Measurements by a team led by Gabrielle Pétron, an atmospheric scientist at the NOAA and the University of Colorado at Boulder, pegs the amount of natural gas being lost to the atmosphere at 4% at the natural gas field known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin.  This does not include gas escaping from the pipeline and distribution system.  This is more than double estimates widely used by the industry.  In the minds of many scientists this eliminates the environmental edge that was perceived for natural gas over burning coal. This test result agrees with conclusions reached last year by separate teams at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and at the US Environmental Protection Agency.  They concluded that methane emissions from shale gas are much larger than previously thought.

Use the following links for more information on this recent study or access the study when it is published in March in the Journal of Geophysical Research:

Select CIRES Researchers Fingerprint Sources of Air Pollution in Colorado at

http://firstgovsearch.gov/search?affiliate=noaa.gov&v%3aproject=firstgov&query=gabrielle+petron

http://www.nature.com/news/air-sampling-revewls-high-emissions-from-gas-field-1.9982

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