Natural gas is good for emissions reduction and methane does not eliminate benefits: IEA

October 27th, 2017

Anti-gas activists are fond of claiming that gas fields leak like a sieve and that the ‘fugitive’ methane negates the carbon emission benefits of using natural gas for power generation.

But they are wrong on both counts – as the latest detailed analysis by the International Energy Agency will show.

This is not news for the industry.

The exaggerations and furphies repeated by activists have long been understood and recognised as hyperbole by the most expert authorities in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

As we have explained a number of times, methane emissions from gas wells are minuscule – the wells are designed and constructed to ensure this.

In most parts of the world other than above coal mines, by far the biggest contributors to methane in the atmosphere are livestock – cows and sheep belching and farting.

Activist groups such as Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Melbourne Energy Institute have been pushing a misleading barrow about methane emissions for some time. Their claims have been exposed as hollow in the past.

The upcoming IEA research is likely to completely puncture their credibility.

IEA’s primary conclusion, as described in its preview report, is that natural gas has undeniable climate benefits, even with a degree of methane “emission” (remembering cows, sheep and coal mines are the culprits here, not gas wells).

This is well documented in the USA. EIA data show that carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in 2015 hit their lowest level since 1993 – an incredible 21 percent drop from their level a decade earlier – especially as natural gas production and use has boomed in this period. If the activists were right in their claims, emissions would have worsened in this period, not improved dramatically.

IEA’s latest ‘preview’ report provides more detail on the superior climate benefits of natural gas, compared with  other fossil fuels:

“The emissions from natural gas combustion are well-known and show clear advantages for gas relative to other fossil fuels. CO2 emissions (per unit of energy produced) from gas are around 40% lower than coal and around 20% lower than oil.”

Natural gas also generates much lower levels of other emissions, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), helping to improve air quality.  The IEA also squashes the activist myth that natural gas combustion worsens air pollution:

“The edge of natural gas over other combustible fuels is reinforced when considering emissions of the main air pollutants, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur oxides, mainly sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOX).

“These three pollutants are responsible for the most widespread impacts of air pollution, according to the WEO Special Report, Energy and Air Pollution 2016.”

We look forward to the publication of the detailed report  to provide even more data to underline what we already know: the US experience proves that natural gas is a pathway to major economic benefits plus simultaneous environmental benefits.

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