There are many misconceptions that are often attached to natural gas. Some people often associate it with other fossil fuels, since natural gas consists primarily of methane.
A recent study that was published in the journal, Science, showed that natural gas production actually emits significantly more methane than what was previously reported. Methane is much more potent than carbon dioxide, but luckily it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time. Regardless though, the extra amount of methane produced from natural gas production still contributes to global warming.
Natural gas has brought opinions from all across the aisle, with some in favor of it, while others oppose. There are some that believe fossil fuels should be completely purged from use, while others who are more pragmatic, believing that technology can overcome the impact natural gas has on climate change.
It’s important to understand the impact that natural gas has on people’s health. Fossil fuel emissions not only damage our planet, but they also damage us. Some of the most common health issues are respiratory issues, heart defects and neurological conditions. For a more in-depth analysis on these health issues, check out our blog, “How Fossil Fuels Impact Your Health.”
While natural gas is cleaner, more efficient than coal, and has a low-carbon profile, it still has its cons, which need to be controlled in order for natural gas to be a long-term energy solution. Carbon dioxide is a much longer lasting greenhouse gas, as its life cycle is typically centuries. Natural gas on the other hand, has a life cycle of 10 years. Even though that sounds more beneficial, one cannot forget that methane is roughly eighty times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Now in order to understand the environmental impact natural gas has, we first need to understand what natural gas is.
What exactly is natural gas?
Simply put, natural gas comes from deep beneath the earth’s surface. Consisting mostly of methane, it’s constantly used as fuel, and to make materials. The gas deposits come from the remains of plants and animals from millions of years ago. The remains of these plants and animals decayed and eventually built up in thick layers, which were then buried under sand, rock and silt. With some pressure and heat, the organic materials began to change form – some turning into oil, others turning into coal, and some into natural gas.
You’ll sometimes find natural gas lying in large cracks and spaces between layers of overlying rock. Other times, you’ll find it in tiny pores within some formations of sedimentary rock. The other place you can find natural gas is in coal deposits, which is usually referred to as coalbed methane.
Scientists look in various places for natural gas deposits. This includes various areas on land, as well as offshore and sometimes deep under the ocean floor. With the use of seismic surveys scientists can spot the right places to drill wells. Once a site has been explored and deemed worthy of production, wells are drilled down. From here, natural gas flows through the well, and up to the surface.
Where natural gas currently stands in the energy market
Natural gas production in the U.S. is currently experiencing a boom, as production this year alone has increased 10 percent from 2017. It’s future outlook is even more optimistic, as reports say that natural gas production will increase 60 percent in the next two decades.
The 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy recently showed that the U.S. currently stands as the world’s global natural gas powerhouse. According to an article from Forbes, the U.S. produced an average of 71.1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. This accounted for 20 percent share of the world’s total natural gas production.
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Natural gas is currently being produced in 32 states. The good thing here is that natural gas continues to grow. The bad news though, is that only a handful of states require energy companies to conduct constant monitoring and repair leaks. The cost to fix methane leaks can prove to be quite expensive, which is why some energy companies turn a blind eye to methane emissions. Until some form of regulation occurs, this will continue – even as natural gas usage expands.
The good thing is that scientists have continued to advance their research in order to find an efficient way of mitigating methane leaks. As new technology advances, companies will be presented with affordable options that can reduce methane emissions. Studies have found that up to 90 percent of emissions come primarily from a small number of sources, which end up leaking huge amounts of methane into our atmosphere.
What our future could entail if we don’t reduce methane emissions
Due to the strength and potency of methane, the planet will continue to see its global temperature rise – unless the emissions can be completely reduced. Without reducing methane emissions, the planet will be hard pressed to keep its global temperature below the 2˚ Celsius goal from the Paris Agreement.
Plugging methane leaks is no easy task. Which is why the need for innovation remains constant. In order to stop methane emissions, scientists will need to uncover new tools that can help energy companies stop methane leaks. Companies and nations will also need to make a conscious effort towards becoming completely renewable energy dependent. By focusing our efforts towards wind, and solar energies, we can ultimately make a difference in the atmosphere’s climate change.
As we continue to develop and innovate renewable energy sources, our carbon dioxide and methane emissions will decrease drastically. This is the type of outcome needed, to help our planet live for a long time.
Integrating policy and science is necessary, regardless of who’s in office. It is everyone’s responsibility to look for the best ways to produce and consume energy. While natural gas is a feasible and much more efficient option than coal, it still comes with potential dire consequences.
How you can help reduce our impact on climate change
Now you might be asking yourself, “how can I make a difference?” That’s easy to answer.
First, look into becoming completely dependent on renewable energy. If you’re able to buy a solar panel to power your home, do it. If that’s not possible look into Community Solar, or wind energy as alternate options. Also, limit the use of your car – which is often a big emitter of greenhouse gases. Finally, raise awareness. Talk to those around you about the importance of limiting natural gas use. Mention the methane emissions and all the facts we laid out throughout this article.
Word of mouth is the oldest and most tested form of advertising. Which is why raising awareness about natural gas and climate change is a valuable and necessary tool. We only have one planet to cherish, so taking the environmental impact of natural gas lightly, is totally unacceptable.