TSX.V: WVR   Last: $0.01   Chg: +0.000   Vol: 60000   Date: Aug 24, 2015
Sign up for News Releases

Environment & Technology

Natural gas is an extremely important source of energy for reducing pollution and maintaining a clean and healthy environment. In addition to being a domestically abundant and secure source of energy, the use of natural gas also offers a number of environmental benefits over other sources of energy, particularly other fossil fuels. This section will discuss the environmental effects of natural gas in terms of emissions, as well as the environmental impact of the natural gas industry itself. Natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels, as evidenced in the Environmental Protection Agency's data comparisons in the chart below, which is still current as of 2010. Composed primarily of methane, the main products of the combustion of natural gas are carbon dioxide and water vapor, the same compounds we exhale when we breathe. Coal and oil are composed of much more complex molecules, with a higher carbon ratio and higher nitrogen and sulfur contents. This means that when combusted, coal and oil release higher levels of harmful emissions, including a higher ratio of carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Coal and fuel oil also release ash particles into the environment, substances that do not burn but instead are carried into the atmosphere and contribute to pollution. The combustion of natural gas, on the other hand, releases very small amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, virtually no ash or particulate matter, and lower levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other reactive hydrocarbons.

Fossil Fuel Emission Levels
- Pounds per Billion Btu of Energy Input

Pollutant

Natural Gas

Oil

Coal

Carbon Dioxide

117,000

164,000

208,000

Carbon Monoxide

40

33

208

Nitrogen Oxides

92

448

457

Sulfur Dioxide

1

1,122

2,591

Particulates

7

84

2,744

Mercury

0.000

0.007

0.016

Source: EIA - Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998

Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, can be used in many ways to help reduce the emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. Burning natural gas in the place of other fossil fuels emits fewer harmful pollutants, and an increased reliance on natural gas can potentially reduce the emission of many of these most harmful pollutants.

Pollutants emitted in the United States , particularly from the combustion of fossil fuels, have led to the development of many pressing environmental problems. Natural gas, emitting fewer harmful chemicals into the atmosphere than other fossil fuels, can help to mitigate some of these environmental issues. These issues include:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Global warming, or the 'greenhouse effect' is an environmental issue that deals with the potential for global climate change due to increased levels of atmospheric 'greenhouse gases'. There are certain gases in our atmosphere that serve to regulate the amount of heat that is kept close to the earth's surface. Scientists theorize that an increase in these greenhouse gases will translate into increased temperatures around the globe, which would result in many disastrous environmental effects. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts in its 'Fourth Assessment Report' released in 2007 that during the 21st century, global average temperatures are expected to rise by between 2.0 and 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  A Fifth Assessment Report is expected to be released sometime between 2010 and 2015.

Power Plants Contribute to the Emission of Greenhouse Gases

Power Plants Contribute to the
Emission of Greenhouse Gases

Source: API

 

The principle greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and some engineered chemicals such as cholorofluorocarbons. While most of these gases occur in the atmosphere naturally, levels have been increasing due to the widespread burning of fossil fuels by growing human populations. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has become a primary focus of environmental programs in countries around the world.

One of the principle greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide. Although carbon dioxide does not trap heat as effectively as other greenhouse gases (making it a less potent greenhouse gas), the sheer volume of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere is very high, particularly from the burning of fossil fuels. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration in its December 2009 report 'Emissions of Greenhouse Gases' in the United States , 81.3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2008 came from energy-related carbon dioxide.

EIA-Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report 2009

Source:
EIA-Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report 2009

 

Because carbon dioxide makes up such a high proportion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, reducing carbon dioxide emissions can play a pivotal role in combating the greenhouse effect and global warming. The combustion of natural gas emits almost 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil, and just under 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal.

One issue that has arisen with respect to natural gas and the greenhouse effect is the fact that methane, the principle component of natural gas, is itself a potent greenhouse gas. Methane has an ability to trap heat almost 21 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. According to the Energy Information Administration, although methane emissions account for only 1.1 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, they account for 8.5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions based on global warming potential. Sources of methane emissions in the U.S. include the waste management and operations industry, the agricultural industry, as well as leaks and emissions from the oil and gas industry itself. A major study performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Gas Research Institute ( GRI ), now Gas Technology Institute, in 1997 sought to discover whether the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from increased natural gas use would be offset by a possible increased level of methane emissions. The study concluded that the reduction in emissions from increased natural gas use strongly outweighs the detrimental effects of increased methane emissions.

In 1993, the natural gas industry joined with EPA in launching the Natural Gas STAR Program  to reduce methane emissions.  The STAR program has chronicled dramatic reductions to methane emissions, since that time:

  • EPA STAR data shows a reduction in methane emissions each year for the last 15 years
  • More than 822 Billion cubic feet (Bcf) of methane emissions were eliminated through the STAR program 1993-2008; and
  • In 2008 alone, the program reduced methane emissions by 114 Bcf.

Thus the increased use of natural gas in the place of other, dirtier fossil fuels can serve to lessen the emission of greenhouse gases in the United States .