The CO2 emissions associated with the burning of natural gas are less than the CO2 emissions associated with burning an equivalent amount of coal. Because of this fact, natural gas is seen by many policy makers as a “clean” alternative to coal.
In the last few years, however, climate activists have been pointing out two worrisome facts: (1) methane (natural gas) is a potent greenhouse gas — about 80 times more potent than CO2 (on a mass basis) during the first 20 years after the methane is released; and (2) our nation’s natural gas pipelines are much leakier than some people thought.
Putting these facts together, some experts have concluded that “natural gas is worse than coal.”
We need to transition away from natural gas
At the BuildingEnergy 17 conference in Boston on March 9, 2017, four experts gave a presentation called “Methane Leaks, Public Policy, and the Future of Natural Gas Grid.” The presenters were Audrey Schulman (from Cambridge HEET), Nathan Phillips (from Boston University), Patrick Parenteau (from Vermont Law School), and Marc Rosenbaum (from South Mountain Company).
Nathan Phillips, a professor at Boston University, has published several papers that focus on the scale of the gas leak problem, including Mapping urban pipeline leaks: Methane leaks across Boston and Fugitive methane emissions from leak-prone natural gas distribution infrastructure in urban environments.
The presentation was an eye-opener. After hearing from these four experts, I’m more convinced than ever of the importance of transitioning away from natural gas and focusing on all-electric solutions.
In this article, I won’t pretend to lay out all of the important research on this topic. Interested GBA readers who want to delve a little deeper can find many online articles on the effects of natural gas leaks and the scope of the problems…