Quantcast
Climate

Natural Gas a Bridge to Nowhere, Study Finds

A study published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that switching from coal to natural gas would not significantly lower the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

The natural gas processed at this plant isn't the answer to reducing carbon emissions, a new study says.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

"That’s chiefly because the shift would delay the deployment and cost-competitiveness of renewable electricity technologies for making electricity," concluded the three researchers from the University of California Irvine, Stanford University and Seattle-based nonprofit Net Zero.

"Increased use of natural gas has been promoted as a means of decarbonizing the U.S. power sector, because of superior generator efficiency and lower CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal," said the study. "We model the effect of different gas supplies on the U.S. power sector and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Across a range of climate policies, we find that abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future."

The study found that, without a climate policy, electricity use would increase as the natural gas supply increased and cost dropped, canceling out the benefits of lower carbon emissions, even if methane leakage from natural gas exploration—itself a potent greenhouse gas—were near zero. It also found that the low cost of natural gas would discourage and delay development and deployment of clean energy technologies. The research team looked at outcomes with no climate policy, a moderate carbon tax of $25 per ton and a strict carbon cap that reduces carbon dioxide emissions 83 percent over 2005 levels by 2050, as well as with renewable energy standards. 

"Our results suggest that without strong limits on GHG emissions or policies that explicitly encourage renewable electricity, abundant natural gas may actually slow the process of decarbonization, primarily by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies," the researchers said.

According to the study, coal provides 41 percent of power in the U.S. Natural gas-fired plants emit 57 percent less Co2 per kilowatt hour than coal-fired plants.

"The potential for natural gas to reduce U.S. emissions has become increasingly salient as innovations in hydraulic fracturing technology have dramatically increased domestic supplies of gas, and as proposed federal regulations on CO2 emissions from stationary sources are projected to increase the substitution of natural gas for coal," said the study. "Although the finding that natural gas alone will not significantly reduce CO2 emissions is consistent with previous reports, we believe the important implications for climate-energy policy are nonetheless not widely appreciated."

"Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies," said Steven Davis, one of the researchers."It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether."

"Natural gas has been presented as a bridge to a low-carbon future, but what we see is that it's actually a major detour," said Christine Shearer, another member of the research team. "We find that the only effective paths to reducing greenhouse gases are a regulatory cap or a carbon tax."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Ohio State Researchers Show How Renewable Energy Standards Reduce Carbon Emissions

How Close is the World to $1 Trillion in Renewable Energy Investments?

50 Dirtiest U.S. Power Plants Huge Contributor to Carbon Emissions

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Food
Chris So / Toronto Star / Getty Images

Nebraska Lawmakers Want to Ban the Word 'Meat' From Vegetarian Substitutes

By Dan Nosowitz

Nebraska is the country's second-leading producer of beef, and is in the top ten of pork producers.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
A northern cardinal and finch in the snow. Mark Moschell / Flickr

Is Winter Miserable for Wildlife?

By Bridget B. Baker

While the weather outside may indeed get frightful this winter, a parka, knit hat, wool socks, insulated boots and maybe a roaring fire make things bearable for people who live in cold climates. But what about all the wildlife out there? Won't they be freezing?

Anyone who's walked their dog when temperatures are frigid knows that canines will shiver and favor a cold paw—which partly explains the boom in the pet clothing industry. But chipmunks and cardinals don't get fashionable coats or booties.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A green sea turtle, one of the animals whose population has increased because of Endangered Species Act protections. Mark Sullivan / NOAA

Marine Mammals and Turtles Protected by the Endangered Species Act Are Bouncing Back

The Endangered Species Act works. That's the conclusion of a peer-reviewed study undertaken by scientists at the Center for Biological Diversity and published in PLOS ONE Wednesday.

The study looked at 31 populations of 19 species of marine mammals and sea turtles in the U.S. that had been granted endangered species protections and found that around three-quarters of them had increased in size.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Students demonstrate in Brussels Thursday calling for climate action. NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / AFP / Getty Images

12,000+ Belgian Students Skip School to Demand Climate Action

Around 12,500 Belgian students marched in Brussels Thursday, joining a growing movement of young people around the world who have started skipping school to demand climate action.

"There is actually no point going to school if our world is going to die," 16-year-old demonstrator Mariam told BBC News in a video.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
A prototype of GE's massive new wind turbine will be installed in the industrial area of Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam. GE Renewable Energy

World's Largest Wind Turbine to Test Its Wings in Rotterdam

Rotterdam's skyline will soon feature the world's largest and most powerful offshore wind turbine.

GE Renewable Energy announced on Wednesday it will install the first 12-megawatt Haliade-X prototype in the Dutch city this summer. Although it's an offshore wind turbine by design, the prototype will be installed onshore to facilitate access for testing.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Colorful, fresh organic vegetables. fcafotodigital / Getty Images

A New Diet for the Planet

By Tim Radford

An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, whole grains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor's orders, tomorrow's farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Children's books about the environment. U.S. Air Force photo / Karen Abeyasekere

This State Might Require Public Schools to Teach Climate Change

Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and climate science. That doesn't have the same ring as the "three Rs" of education, but Connecticut could one day require the subject to be on the curriculum, The Associated Press reported.

A Connecticut state lawmaker is pushing a bill to mandate the teaching of climate change in public schools throughout the state, starting in elementary school.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
NASA's ICESCAPE mission investigates the changing conditions in the Arctic. NASA / Kathryn Hansen

These Eye-Opening Memes Show the Real 10-Year Challenge

Before-and-after photos of your friends have probably taken over your Facebook and Instagram feeds, but environmentalists are using the #10YearChallenge to insert a dose of truth.

Memes of shrinking glaciers, emaciated polar bears and coral bleaching certainly subvert the feel-good viral sensation, but these jarring images really show our planet in a worrying state of flux.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!