by Jim Ball
Today's blog provides Reason 3 of the 7 Reasons Why the President must talk about climate change and not just clean energy.
For years now natural gas has been touted as the "clean" fossil fuel, given that it lacks air pollutants like soot and mercury. And when burned at a power plant to make electricity, it produces about half the global warming emissions as coal.
As such, natural gas has been pushed by some supporters of climate action as a "bridge" that will help take us from the fossil era into the clean energy era. (See, for example, former Sen. Tim Worth's comments here and here and here.)
In his 2012 State of the Union address, the President proclaimed his Administration's strong commitment to natural gas development. He recently reiterated this in a speech in New Hampshire on March 1st:
"We're taking every possible action to develop a near 100-year supply of natural gas, which releases fewer carbons."
Unfortunately, serious reservations have recently been raised about natural gas serving as a "bridge" to a climate-friendly future. Indeed, natural gas could be "all hat and no cattle" when it comes to overcoming global warming.
First, two prominent scientists, Myhrvold and Calderia just published the results from "a quantitative model of energy system transitions that includes life-cycle emissions and the central physics of greenhouse warming." Essentially they gamed out scenarios for replacing coal-generated electricity with electricity generated from sources that are less carbon intensive to determine what temperature reductions they would bring and when. They concluded that natural gas "cannot yield substantial temperature reductions this century."
On its own this study raises important questions about natural gas as part of overcoming global warming. Certainly more study is needed along such lines.
But other disturbing news has come to light about natural gas.
Recent studies (here and here and here) have indicated that current and future natural gas production in this country could produce more global warming pollution than coal -- even more when looking at a 20-year time-frame. The main reason? Natural gas fields are leaking much more gas than previously thought.
Again, more study is needed of such "fugitive emissions" as they are called. But enough has been done to raise very serious questions. These fugitive emissions could be addressed by an upcoming regulation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By how much is not yet clear.
Taken together, these studies suggest that natural gas can no longer be relied upon as part of a strategy of climate change mitigation. It could be "fool's gold" when it comes to overcoming global warming, foolish investments that take money away from real solutions.
As such, the President cannot tout natural gas as part of an energy strategy he privately hopes will also address climate change. Indeed, it requires the Administration to put the brakes on natural gas until these serious climate concerns are thoroughly assessed. To justify such a major change in policy would require the President to talk about a key reason for the switch: climate change.
The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is EEN's Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.