Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 27, 2014

Natural Gas is also a Dead End

There has been much enthusiasm in the last decade for the increased development of natural gas (NG) for general energy use in our homes and vehicles and for the replacement of coal in power plants.  Natural gas does, indeed, appear to be very “clean” relative to coal and non-traditional fossil fuels such as the tar sands.  Also, that attractive lady on the Chevron commercials assures us that natural gas is really good – better than puppies and rainbows – and that all will be fine if we just let Chevron and other fossil fuel industries look after our energy needs.

Unfortunately, however, this hype concerning NG is BS – for the following reasons:

First, natural gas is a form of fossil fuel, of course.  It consists mainly of methane (CH4) along with some ethane (C2H6) and propane (C3H8).  When burned, the carbon in all of these molecules is converted to CO2 and emitted into the atmosphere,  just as in the combustion of oil and coal. 

 Next, in the extraction, distribution, and use of NG, leaks occur resulting in release of large amounts of methane directly into the atmosphere.  It is commonly estimated that those leaks amount to about 7% of the total NG extracted and are largely unavoidable.  This is very bad news because on a molecule-to-molecule basis, methane is some 70 times more effective than CO2 in causing greenhouse gas warming.  Thus, that 7% leakage of NG causes far greater immediate warming than does the equivalent emission of CO2.  I have added the term “immediate” here because atmospheric methane is converted to CO2 in about 20 years by natural oxidative processes (after that conversion, the extra CO2 thereby produced simply adds to our total elevated CO2 level and lasts for several centuries).

In addition, our use of NG in power plants is not just replacing coal.  It is also replacing and retarding the use and development of the non-CO2 producing methods of power production, including wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear.   Even though the combustion of methane provides about twice the energy per CO2 molecule produced relative to coal, its continued use will lead us to the same “dead end” concerning greenhouse gas warming that is being caused by all of the other fossil fuels.  Only by the use of non-CO2 producing methods can that degradation be arrested.

Any detailed analysis of future NG use clearly supports what I have said here.  That is, the replacement of coal in power plants and gasoline in vehicles by NG is a losing proposition and you should not be taken in by the claims of that attractive lady in the Chevron commercials.  Increased use of (so called) “clean” NG is not a solution to global warming.  Instead, it is becoming one of the major causes of global warming.  For more on this topic with the numbers to support my message, see http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/19/3296831/natural-gas-climate-benefit/        


Responses

  1.  “This is very bad news because on a molecule-to-molecule basis, methane is some 70 times more effective than CO2 in causing greenhouse gas warming.  Thus, that 7% leakage of NG causes far greater immediate warming than does the equivalent emission of CO2.”

    Eric; It appears that there is whole lot of methane for you to loose sleep over along with your devil in the sky, CO2.
     
    “Ocean Floor Methane Gas Hydrate Exploration
     Introduction: Over the last decade, large deposits of methane hydrates have been identified along the world continental margins. Frozen mixtures of hydrocarbon gas (mostly methane) and water occur over large areas of the ocean floor and vastly exceed other carbon-energy reservoirs. With a maximum content of 164 m3 of methane and 0.8 m3 of water at standard temperature and pressure per cubic meter of hydrate and an estimated range of 26 to 139 X 1015 m3 globally, this is a significant new energy source. The content of methane in hydrates is variable and is controlled by geothermal gradients and biological methane production. International research has begun, with a primary goal of obtaining the methane in these hydrates as an energy source.
     
    This requires a broad range of scientific efforts to address the methane hydrate presence, develop mining strategies, and predict the impact on the environment and platform stability. The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed strong research topics regarding methane hydrates over the last 30 years. NRL has unique field and laboratory expertise that couples physical, chemical, and biological parameters to address methane hydrate distribution, formation, and stability. Recent, current, and planned field work is active on the Texas-Louisiana Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico, Nankai Trough off the eastern coast of Japan, Blake Ridge in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, the Cascadia Margin in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, and the Haakon-Mosby Mud Volcano (MV) in the Norwegian-Greenland Sea (Fig. 7).
     http://www.nrl.navy.mil/research/nrl-review/2002/chem-biochem-research/coffin/

    (Response from EPG: Yes John, of course, natural emissions of methane due to a warming world are of great concern – as was extensively described in my recent post entitled “Are Tipping Points for Real?”.)

  2. The Chevron commercial, and other similar ones, are glaring examples of how stupid it is to allow energy companies to have too strong an influence on climate policies. I cringe every time I see them; they fell extremely synthetic and false.
    The Chevron lady’s effect on serious discussion of future climate would have been the same had she simply removed her top; Certainly, the ads objective, of deflecting attention from what is important, would have been more effectively achieved.

  3. I know that Eric has no soft spot in his heart for Anthony Watts who, even after being allowed to make over 30 comments on his site, says that he was shut out of the conversation. This also applies to cognitiophile who never got to see the reply that I posted to him about energy companies.
    Benjamin Franklin
    “Life’s Tragedy is that we get old to soon and wise too late.”

    “Unfortunately, you will not be able to see many of my responses. Many were “snipped” as shown on the thread and many are not shown at all –  these were apparently trashed by Mr. Watts and his tightly controlled set of moderators.”
    […]”….its manager will nevertheless do his best to publish any comments or arguments from any party – as long as the argument is clearly and sincerely presented and that the submitting party understands that all discussions and arguments can go both ways.  Note also that the host of this site prefers to consider information, ideas, and conclusions that have been subjected to at least some form of either historic or modern peer-review.” And that I might add is NOT a true statement by Eric .

    “Guest essay by Dr. Tom Sheahen
    Q: I read that methane is an even worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and cattle are a big source of methane emissions. How are they going to regulate that? Not just cattle, but dairy cows as well! That doubles the worry.
    Fortunately, there is really nothing to worry about, scientifically. The main thing to worry about is over-reacting politicians and another layer of unnecessary government regulations.”  

  4. The link to the above by Dr. Tom Sheahen, I forgot to remove the .
     
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/04/11/methane-the-irrelevant-greenhouse-gas/


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