Tag Archive | "coal"

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Coal to Overtake Oil, Natural Gas is a Questionable Substitute

Posted on 31 January 2013 by Jerry

At the present rate of demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that coal will overtake oil as the top world energy source within a decade.  Driven by increasing use around the globe this does not bode well for efforts to slow or reduce climate change.  Increasing consumption in both China and India is projected to exceed that of the United States by 2017.  Without any significant breakthroughs in carbon capture and sequester (CCS), which would remove harmful chemicals from the output of coal plants, coal will continue to be very cheap and very dirty.

United States coal demand is declining because of the substitution of plentiful, less expensive natural gas.  New natural gas extraction techniques, such as hydraulic fracking which pulls gas out of shale deposits, coupled with increasing distribution around the world purportedly offer a cost effective, cleaner substitute for coal.  IEA executive director, Maria van der Hoeven has said that “The U.S. experience suggests that a more efficient gas market marked by flexible pricing and fueled by indigenous unconventional resources that are produced sustainably, can reduce coal use, CO2 emissions and consumer electricity bills, without harming energy security.”

Unfortunately (see 2-26-12 post, “Natural Gas My Speed Climate Change”) the natural gas bonanza for the U.S. may ultimately turn out to be part of the problem rather than solution.  In the earlier article we described results from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of Colorado study of methane leaks conducted in a natural gas field near Denver.  Methane is the dominant component of natural gas.  That original study showed a total leakage of 4% of the total gas produced at that field.  This 4% is twice the level the government has assumed for these fields.  Two percent makes natural gas competitive with coal.  Four percent or higher makes coal the better choice. The four percent level of leakage makes natural gas dirtier and more harmful to the environment than coal.

Now the same scientists have reported new data from the original Colorado gas field which supports earlier findings.  In addition, they have released preliminary results of a new, more sophisticated, study of leakage at a natural gas field in Utah which showed an even higher level of leakage.  These measurements show a 9% leakage of total production.  These two high levels of natural gas leakage if duplicated in other studies across the country would suggest we halt production until the leakage problem is corrected.

It also indicates we should not approve the Keystone XL Pipeline which will open up many more areas of Canada to natural gas production.  Otherwise natural gas is a much greater contributor to climate change than we ever imagined, greater than coal.  It will be very difficult however, to slow the land rush for natural gas since the profit motive is often the dominant and overriding motivator in the U.S. and Canada.

Use the following links to access additional information:

http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2012/december/name,34441,en.html

http://www.nature.com/news/methane-leaks-erode-green-credentials-of-natural-gas-1.12123

http://iamaguardian.com/490/natural-gas-may-speed-climate-change/

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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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