Shale gas is not a low emissions fuel


Shale gas is not a low emissions fuel

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Bloomberg reported that too much valuable methane from natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere, hurting the bottom line as well as the climate. We know how to stop it. It’s cheap to do and it can pay for itself.

Natural gas production in the United States has been booming and is expected to keep growing. Already, there are more than 500,000 wells and 300,000 miles of pipeline in place. In 2012, US producers brought more than 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to market. And by 2020, the United States is projected to be a net exporter of natural gas.

Natural gas is here to stay. Its low price is spurring investment and jobs and increasing energy security. But it’s important to get it right. Much of the growth is driven by hydraulic fracturing or fracking a process in which producers can drill more than one mile down and one mile across to access gas in rock formations. While shale gas has been an economic boon, the process can contaminate water supplies, cause air pollution, and have other disruptive impacts on the land and communities.

Without methane leakage, natural gas would create only about half the greenhouse gases per unit of energy as coal. Yet, methane is 72 times more potent than CO2 measured over 20 years, which is particularly important given that climate change is happening even more quickly than many models have predicted. (Methane has around 25 times more warming potential than CO2 over a 100 year timeframe.) At around three percent leakage, natural gas becomes more harmful than coal in the near term.

WRI recently conducted an analysis to find out what we know about US methane emissions from natural gas and what can be done to rein them in.

According to the most recent estimate from EPA, more than 6 million tonnes of fugitive methane leaked from US natural gas systems in 2011. In terms of climate impacts, that’s equivalent to 432 million tonnes of CO2 per year over a 20 year time horizon that’s more than CO2 emissions from all sources in Australia in 2011. It’s also more greenhouse gases than from all US petroleum refining, iron and steel, cement and aluminum manufacturing facilities combined.

Methane leaks are estimated to be around two to 3% of total production though there is troubling uncertainty around the total. The biggest source of emissions is from new wells. Starting up a new gas well is like popping a Champagne bottle: it releases gas under pressure quickly and with force. Emissions can also leak out through the production process, if proper safeguards are not in place.

Shale gas is not only expanding in the United States, it’s on the rise around the globe. Large natural gas reserves have been found in China, South Africa, Turkey, Poland, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. According to official Chinese estimates, the country may have 886 trillion cubic feet of shale gas or nearly three times the United States. Reaching the shale potential in China will take additional technology and consume huge water resources significant challenges to be overcome.

Source – Bloomberg


Tags: Shale | gas | is | not | a | low | emissions | fuel |

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One thought on “Shale gas is not a low emissions fuel

  1. Neville

    15 April, 2013

    Methane 72 times more potent than co2 would be an exaggeration.
    25 times is a more realistic figure.

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