Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dark Side of Natural Gas

Related to the Transco pipeline that passes through the Princeton Ridge, an OpEd in today's NY Times, entitled "Gangplank to a Warm Future", contends that natural gas is not the clean fuel many proclaim it to be. Given the leakage of methane into the atmosphere during extraction and transport, it contributes as much or more to global warming as other fossil fuels. According to the author of the OpEd, Anthony R. Ingraffea, methane, the main component of natural gas, "is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it doesn’t last nearly as long in the atmosphere. Still, over a 20-year period, one pound of it traps as much heat as at least 72 pounds of carbon dioxide. Its potency declines, but even after a century, it is at least 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. When burned, natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, but methane leakage eviscerates this advantage because of its heat-trapping power."

Ingraffea, "a longtime oil and gas engineer who helped develop shale fracking techniques for the Energy Department", describes the challenges involved in reducing leakage from hydraulic fracturing wells, and adds that it is difficult to prevent old oil and gas wells from developing leaks over time.

As is typical, as consumers protected from awareness of the consequences of our consumption, we experience natural gas as a wonderful and clean fuel for our stoves and furnaces, while all the pollution involved in extraction and transport of that fuel remains hidden.

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