Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Why Natural Gas is a Bridge to Nowhere

Energy
Why Natural Gas is a Bridge to Nowhere

Though the president and federal Environmental Protection Agency are on the brink of issuing new rules for existing coal-fired power plants, a Cornell University professor says natural gas deserves a bit of attention, too.

Robert Howarth has maintained for three years that natural gas was capable of emitting more greenhouse gases than coal. Now, the professor of ecology and evolutionary biology has new research to back it up.

Published in the Energy Science & Engineering journal this month, "A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas" also argues that natural gas emits more greenhouse gases than oil and other fuels in both residential and commercial usage. The main reason? Methane comprises about 75 percent of natural gas.

Coal gets all the attention for the carbon it emits at power plants, but natural gas is even worse, a Cornell University professor's latest research suggests. Photo credit: Southern Natural Gas Company LLC/Flickr Creative Commons

"Carbon dioxide is only one greenhouse gas and the public tends to focus on it, and scientists as well,” Howarth told Boulder Weekly. “Methane is also a potent greenhouse gas. The latest information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in the last seven or eight months, says that global methane emissions from human-caused sources now equal carbon dioxide in their effect on global warming.”

Howarth's study arose from his examination of about 60 studies published since 2011. He spent so much time analyzing because he had heard natural gas propaganda for much of the previous two years, praising it as a bridge to a cleaner energy with a path away from foreign oil dependence. After teaming with Anthony Ingraffea and Renee Santoro, also of Cornell, he realized that natural gas actually a bridge to nowhere. His latest research drives that point home.

"While it is true that less carbon dioxide is emitted per unit [of] energy released when burning natural gas compared to coal or oil, natural gas is composed largely of methane, which itself is an extremely potent greenhouse gas," the study's introduction reads.

"Methane is far more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than is carbon dioxide, and so even small rates of methane emission can have a large influence on greenhouse gas footprints of natural gas use."

The research is pertinent, given the current obsession with fracking for natural and shale across the U.S.

"Is natural gas a bridge fuel? At best, using natural gas rather than coal to generate electricity might result in a very modest reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions," Howarth concludes, "if those emissions can be kept below a range of 2.4 to 3.2 percent.

"That is a big ‘if,' and one that will require unprecedented investment in natural gas infrastructure and regulatory oversight."

——–

YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE

Purdue and Cornell Researchers Find Up to 1,000 Times More Methane Emissions Than Estimated in Drilling Phase

The Bacteria That Can Mitigate Fracked Natural Gas Before It Pollutes the Atmosphere

New Study Shows Proximity to Fracking Sites Increases Risk of Birth Defects

——–

The western edge of the Greenland ice sheet in West Greenland as seen from the air. Ashley Cooper / Getty Images

As the world's ice sheets melt at an increasing rate, researchers are looking for explanations beyond just a hotter climate. A recent study found one answer may lie in the dust.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg protests during a "Fridays for Future" protest in front of the Swedish Parliament Riksdagen in Stockholm on October 9. Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP / Getty Images

By Greta Thunberg

  • Greta Thunberg calls for urgent action to address the climate and ecological crisis.
  • She reminds the world of the promises made to children and grandchildren — a promise they expect to be kept.
  • The proposals being discussed and presented at the moment are 'very far from being enough.'
Read More Show Less

Trending

A dugong, also called a sea cow, swims with golden pilot jacks near Marsa Alam, Egypt, Red Sea. Alexis Rosenfeld / Getty Images

In 2010, world leaders agreed to 20 targets to protect Earth's biodiversity over the next decade. By 2020, none of them had been met. Now, the question is whether the world can do any better once new targets are set during the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming, China later this year.

Read More Show Less
President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Jan. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

By Andrew Rosenberg

The first 24 hours of the administration of President Joe Biden were filled not only with ceremony, but also with real action. Executive orders and other directives were quickly signed. More actions have followed. All consequential. Many provide a basis for not just undoing actions of the previous administration, but also making real advances in public policy to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

Read More Show Less
Melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet's ice.

Read More Show Less