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Natural Gas Causing ‘Detour’ On Road To Cleaner Fuel

Natural gas is often promoted as a cleaner alternative to gasoline -- a kind of “bridge fuel” between emission-heavy energy sources and zero-emission renewables like solar and wind.

But a new study casts doubt on the benefits of natural gas. Researchers from the University of California-Irvine, Stanford University and the non-profit organization Near Zero studied various parings of climate policies involving natural gas and discovered that in some cases, the use of gas would actually increase emissions from the world’s power-generation sector by as much as 5 percent.

The scientists published their findings on Sept. 24 in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Related: Study Finds Treated Fracking Wastewater Still Too Toxic

Gas got its reputation as a  “bridge fuel” because it emits only half as much carbon dioxide as coal to generate the same amount of electricity. In the United States, coal generates 39 percent of the country’s electricity.

But recent studies of how natural gas is produced have looked at leaks of methane – a greenhouse gas – during the extraction process. “We were wondering: What about the effects outside of this direct coal-and-gas comparison?” said Christine Shearer, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Irvine and a co-author of a recent study.

A study published in Science found that the emissions of methane in the gas extraction process were probably 50 percent greater than previous government estimates.

Related: Larger Than Expected Natural Gas Inventories Spells Trouble for Producers

Yet because gas is cheap and plentiful, it is seen as an attractive alternative to dirtier energy sources and is gaining in popularity. That’s a problem because it could slow the country’s transition to clean energy sources.

That’s why Shearer calls gas “a major detour” on the road to a lower carbon future, and says, “We find that the only effective paths to reducing greenhouse gases are a regulatory cap or a carbon tax.”

Although switching power generation from coal to natural gas still reduces greenhouse gas emissions, UC-Irvine’s Steven Davis says “cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies. It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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  • Tim Bilsky on October 03 2014 said:
    Liberals will always find a way to demonize self-sustaining energy resources. Remember when natural gas (clearly self-sustaining and profitable) was touted as the cleanest, best hope for America? Now that it's finally entrenched as a major energy contributor and without nearly the subsidization (see government theft) of say, solar and wind, the left wants it gone. They only want what they can control with government. Make no mistake. Foolish greenhouse gas legislation will kill our economy and ensure that very few in control become very rich. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen. You can take it to the carbon bank.
  • Wayne LaMontagne on October 02 2014 said:
    Natural gas capturing during flaring needs to be done. However, gasoline stations provide a major source of gases when people fill up. A lot of gases escape at gas stations. If flaring could be curtailed, it would be great to see natural gas used in the transportation sector. Most people do not think about the sources of energy for electric cars when hooking up to an electric station. Most of the energy comes from coal, oil, and natural gas power stations. Burning natural gas in the engine is much cleaner and efficient than using an electric car.

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