In recent years the natural gas industry has developed technologies which have opened up the possibilities of tapping into gases previously considered to be too difficult or too costly to utilise. Last year at the 25th World Gas Conference one of the key topics for conversation centred on continual innovation and how natural gas could become part of a cleaners, more sustainable future.
We’re at a stage now in human history where our reliance on energy is as great as it’s ever been and at the same time we all need to do more than ever before to combat the effects of climate change and reduce greenhouse emissions. As economic and population growth continue, especially in developing parts of the world, there is more and more demand for energy which improves the local environment and has the least impact on global emissions.
The question then is can natural gas provide a solution? Let’s start by taking a look at some of the arguments in favour of using natural gas.
A low carbon future
Natural gas is seen as a provider of a cleaner energy alternative with significantly lower emissions when you compare a natural gas fired power plant with a coal-fired one. Those in favour of using natural gas will also point to the fact that it is a cleaner burning fuel than oil and coal and through its flexibility can complement wind generated electricity and solar heating.
Effective transportation with limited environmental impact
Another argument in favour of natural gas is that it can be transported across the globe with less impact on the environment. Those advocating the use of natural gas claim that it is easy to distribute and that it can be safely transported in its liquefied form (LNG) or delivered from one nation to the next or even across continents through a series of pipelines with minimal fuel loss during transportation and can therefore can help in solving some of the world’s economic and environmental problems in more sustainable and secure way.
Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV)
There are those who support an increased role for natural gas in transportation and suggest that the use of dedicated natural gas vehicles results in up to 25% less CO2 emissions when compared to petroleum fuels and therefore lead to cleaner air quality which is particularly welcome in highly populated, urban areas.
The argument against
Whiles there’s no getting away from the fact that burning natural gas is significantly cleaner and emits less Co2 than other none renewable sources such as coal and oil, the process of obtaining shale gas can cause untold damage to the environment and has been cited as a potential threat to human health.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking as its better known involves drilling a deep hole into dense shale rocks containing reserves of natural gas. Vast quantities of water, sand and other chemicals are then pumped in at high pressure to facture the rocks and release the natural gas.
Fracking is something of a two sided sword. It has been so successful when it comes to obtaining natural gas the in just over a decade natural gas has gone from hardly being used to producing as much as 20% of the US energy supply. However, it doesn’t come without its risks.
There have been a number of cases where the shale well castings were defective resulting in nearby soil and water becoming contaminated. In addition to water pollution fracking can also lead to the air becoming polluted with methane, hydrogen sulphide and other volatile organic compounds and these gases have been found to reduce air quality and visibility, can impact climate change and damage vegetation.
What we’re left with then is a much cleaner fossil fuel that can help support a lower carbon future but one which is obtained through a highly questionable means that endanger both the environment and humans.
We set out to answer the question ‘can natural gas contribute towards a more sustainable world?’ There’s no doubting it can however, it leaves us with one very important question; is it really work the risk?
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