Friday, March 23, 2012

CO2 from natural gas is not 50% compared to coal

RE:March 23 "Gas industry tackles issues on "fracking" Financial Post

Travis Davies of CAPP states that natural gas burns 50% cleaner than coal. What do we mean by cleaner? The reference is to carbon emissions. The article goes on to say ... AND natural gas emits less nitrous oxides and sulphurous oxides. Perhaps if the SO's and the NO's are included with the carbon and the shorter term pollutive effects are combined with the longer term CO2 effects them somehow we could say the overall effect of burning natural gas vs coal is 50% cleaner but this is all very misleading. There's more to it than just burning. Yes natural gas burns cleaner in terms of pollutants that exist in the atmosphere for less than 2 years but the reference and the bigger concern is the CO2. Natural gas is not 50% less carbon intense than coal even just in terms of burning it. The number is much higher and depends on the usage. Natural gas doesn't burn as hot so more energy from natural gas is needed to produce electricity compared to coal for example. When natural gas is converted to liquid natural gas and transported the carbon footprint jumps even further. The article talks about the lack of regulation in the natural gas extraction industry. Its the lack of enforced regulations that lead to sloppy practices where methane leaks from well heads especially between the fracking and extraction processes and some studies have indicated the possibility that when this effect is included in equivalent CO2 terms with transportation effects never mind LNG compression that in fact the case can be made that natural gas from fracking is no less carbon intense than coal. The loosely used fraction of 50% is very irresponsible. Its really a key number because if we truly could reduce carbon emissions by 50% using natural gas vs coal then we'd be very motivated to move forward in a mad rush to exploit this resource...sort of like we are in the western provinces with no pressure to enforce or improve regulations. If low cost natural gas is going to delay the movement toward a renewable energy future then let's at least stop pretending that the need for monitoring and enforceable regulations in this industry are not critical. You don't have to leak much methane from a wellhead before you negate all the equivalent CO2 benefits of natural gas vs coal or oil sands oil.

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