The world's hunger for natural gas has dramatically increased of late with the recent "shale gas revolution" in the US. This unconventional gas resource has brought about extremely low gas prices in the US, changed the dynamics of the global energy market and spawned the desire of other nations to mimic the US's push for unconventional gas and new dry gas discoveries. As countries move away from coal, or shutter their nuclear power plants, the global demand for gas has skyrocketed.
Were it not for climate change, this transition might be all well and good. Unfortunately, however, burning natural gas creates carbon dioxide. In addition, unburned methane is a vastly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide itself, and so gas discharged upstream of its end use adds significantly to the overall climate change impact of the fuel. If the US were to close all of our existing coal power plants and replace them with modern NGCC, for example, we would reduce our national CO2e emissions by only about 16 percent. The benefit of natural gas is offset significantly by direct emissions of unburned methane released upstream of the point of end use (e.g., gas wells, pipelines, etc.). As a result, simply substituting natural gas for other fossil fuels appears unlikely to significantly reduce climate forcing.
Switching fuels does not solve the carbon dioxide emission challenge. To meet mid-century climate change targets, carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas combustion must be captured and sequestered in deep geological formations (essentially returning the carbon to the Earth's crust, from whence it came). Using carbon capture and sequestration ("CCS") technology CO2 Technology Solutions], a natural gas power plant would emit only about 5 percent of the carbon dioxide of a new conventional coal power plant without CCS. This represents a significant emissions reduction potential.
With careful management, regulation, and technology deployment, natural gas can be a bridge to a climate-compatible future.
See what our experts are saying about Natural Gas.