Natural Gas

Natural gas pipeline, Australia

Natural gas is a fossil fuel. It produces heat-trapping carbon dioxide when combusted. Additional emissions are produced through gas leaks during extraction and pipeline distribution. Natural gas is a nonrenewable energy resource because it cannot be replenished on a human time frame. Natural gas is seen as a threat to efforts to combat climate change for a number of reasons, but major concern focuses on the methane emissions released during production and transport of usable gas. Additionally, proliferation of gas production slows the world’s transition to renewable energy sources, which must happen at an aggressive pace in order to avoid some of the most costly consequences of climate change. A recent World Resources Institute report suggests fugitive methane emissions from natural gas systems represent a significant source of global warming pollution in the US.

Production Process:

The natural gas power production process begins with the extraction of gas, continues with its treatment and transport to the power plants and ends with its combustion in boilers and turbines that generate electricity. At the power plant, the burning of natural gas produces nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. Methane, a primary component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas, can also be emitted into the air when natural gas is not burned completely. Similarly, methane can be emitted as the result of leaks and losses during transportation. Recent reports suggest methane emissions resulting from leaks in natural gas pipelines are comparable to coal emissions.

Methods of Extraction:

Natural gas production often requires extreme and untested extraction methods that are damaging to the environment and resource intensive. The most well known of these methods is hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, is the process of injecting pressurized water, sand and poisonous chemicals into a rock formation, fracturing the rock formation and then accessing shale gas, tight gas, tight oil, and coal seam gas. This method has become increasingly common and its rapid deployment has raised concerns about the impact on freshwater resources, chemical contamination, increased carbon emissions, earthquakes and increased industrialization. See The Tree’s Hydraulic Fracking Topics Page.

Liquified Natural Gas Exports:

As natural gas production continues via fracking and other unconventional methods, the issue of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) has become  increasingly prevalent. LNG is natural gas supercooled into a liquid form. This is done to more expedite transport of natural gas to and  from destinations not linked by pipeline. Exporting natural gas would increase fracking and would increase carbon emissions, while putting sensitive ecological areas at risk. In the US, environmental and citizen groups continually fight LNG export terminals arguing that the natural

gas combustion required to produce and transport LNG to the plants adds 20 to 40 percent more carbon dioxide than burning of the natural gas alone. From a safety standpoint, LNG terminals have historically been an area for concern. In 2004, an explosion at Sonatrach LNG liquefaction facility in Algeria killed 27 and injured 56, destroying three LNG trains, costing the facility $900 million (USD). More recently, in April of 2014, an unexplained blast at an LNG facility in rural Washington state injured workers, forced an evacuation and raised alarm about a potentially large second explosion. This explosion along with a number of other concerns has cast doubt about many proposed LNG export facilities around the world.

Environmental Impacts:

Beyond concerns about explosions, methane emissions and contributions to climate change, natural gas production is seen as a direct threat to environments and ecosystems wherever it is produced and transported. The extraction of natural gas and the construction of natural gas power plants can destroy natural habitat for animals and plants. Possible land resource impacts include erosion, loss of soil productivity, and landslides.


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  • “Natural gas is a finite resource. We will eventually run into depletion and higher cost.” He adds, “It still releases greenhouse gas emissions. So if we’re going to get to a point where we strictly limit those emissions, we need renewables.” -John Jacoby,  MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Chang
  • Natural gas production is not sustainable — it’s also harmful to our climate. “The hydrofracking revolution that is bringing shale oil and shale gas to many parts of the world is very profitable, but it is not putting the world on a trajectory that is sustainable by any stretch of the imagination.” Jeffrey Sachs Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary‐General on the Millennium Development Goals
  • We should not be drilling for oil anywhere because burning oil and coal and natural gas is what’s destroying our environment, our climate. And we need the climate if we’re going to eat.- Paul Ehrlich

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