No Doubt you've seen the Ads. Natural Gas (NG) Ad heralding itself to be the Clean, Abundant, Safe Fuel of the Future.
And best of all Natural Gas is Domestically Produced -- by Americans, for Americans!
Well alright now! That's what we need, if we are ever to 'cut the cord' to Foreign Oil ...
Here's one such NG PSA -- in Bullet Point format, for 'easy consumer consumption':
5) Becoming More Efficient
2) Ready Now
1) NG is Domestically Available
Natural Gas is the Cleanest burning conventional fuel
45% less CO2 than Coal
30% less than Fuel Oil
Sounds simple enough, so what's the catch?
Well, I think the fine marketeers behind the PSA, at allconnect.com, may have left a few "points" off their glowing list. Perhaps their NG's sponsors, only like to talk about the "Good News" side of the story ...
but there IS a less "cheerful" side to the Natural Gas story ...
First off here is some confirmation of NG's lighter Carbon Footprint from a few years ago ...
Clean Burning Natural Gas Vehicles
by Bill Siuru, greencar.com -- 10/01/2007
Mention alternative fuels, and most Americans think ethanol, biodiesel, or hydrogen. Forgotten is one of the most promising alternative fuels: natural gas. Clean burning and available from mostly domestic sources, natural gas is already used by most Americans every day for heating and cooking. The technology challenges facing its widespread use in natural gas vehicles, or NGVs, are nil. So why does natural gas get so little attention?
Natural gas, mainly methane (CH4), is obtained mostly from natural gas wells or as a byproduct of crude oil production. It can also be a renewable fuel when biogas [...] is produced by the fermentation of organic matter including manure, wastewater sludge, municipal solid waste, or any other biodegradable feedstock.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 84 percent of the natural gas used in the U.S. comes from domestic sources. By comparison, less than 40 percent of the crude oil we use is produced domestically. Imported natural gas comes mostly via pipeline from Canada and Mexico.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, exhaust emissions from NGVs are much lower than those of gasoline-powered vehicles. [...]carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, is reduced by 30 to 40 percent.
I must admit that story was an eyeopener for me -- the fact that
Natural Gas is really Methane.
Especially since I've known about the Heat Trapping effects of raw Methane for a while now. Methane makes Carbon dioxide, look like 'a piker' -- a pipsqueak, of a Climate Change threat. Methane gas in the atmosphere, IS the Big Kid on the Block:
Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for approximately 9-15 years. Methane is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year period.
Silly me, every time I've seen the warnings about Methane as a Greenhouse Gas, I've always thought:
For some strange reason, Natural Gas never made my mental Methane Source List -- until now.
I hope that they "know what they're doing" as they capture and transport this "safe" wonder fuel of the future. Makes you wonder how much of that "abundant" Natural Gas -- evades capture, and silently slips into the Atmosphere, undetected?
Hmmmm ... looks like Scientific American has been wondering the same sort of things, about NG-Methane Leakage -- the EPA too.
Scientific American: Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated
By Abrahm Lustgarten and ProPublica -- January 26, 2011
The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency -- and a growing understanding of the pollution associated with the full "life cycle" of gas production -- is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change.
Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future. But those assumptions are based on emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and don't account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.
The EPA's new analysis doubles its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells, drastically changing the picture of the nation's emissions that the agency painted as recently as April. Calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent. Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.
When all these emissions are counted, gas [NG] may be as little as 25 percent cleaner than coal, or perhaps even less.
The ProPublica Journalist digs into the recent EPA Study, and the 'Bad News' math about NG, that the EPA has gathered -- all of which is all quite interesting -- but here is one of main "not-so-cheerful" take-away points ...
Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated
by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica -- Jan. 25, 2011
Methane Is a Potent Climate Gas
Robert Howarth, an environmental biology professor at Cornell University, used research from the United Nations to calculate that if methane's potency were considered over 20 years rather than 100 years, it would be 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in terms of its warming potential.
Figured that way, the climate effect of methane from natural gas would quickly outpace the climate effect of carbon dioxide from burning coal.
Yikes! I thought Natural Gas was supposed to be CLEAN !?
I guess a lot depends on how you define "Clean" ... couldn't we use some EPA standards here? Say some sort of standard CO2-Tons-Equivalent measuring system, eh?
It that weren't bad enough, here's the "worse news" side of the NG Story ...
Natural Gas Production often means Fracking Production.
No doubt you've heard about "Fracking" -- the Oil & Gas industry's "high tech" way to recover those hard-to-recover Carbon-based Fuels from the Earth.
No doubt you've heard about some of Fracking's "Dirty" side-effects, like poisoned Ground Water, like Tap water that catches fire, like plunging local property prices where Fracking is employed ...
Seems like we could use a few more EPA standards here too, eh?
The Dark Side of the Boom
How natural gas drilling in Texas threatens public health and safety
TXsharon, EarthJustice -- 20 April 2011
Over the years, I have collected stories and documentation of the havoc that uncontrolled and virtually unregulated drilling and fracking are wreaking on the health and safety of the people of North Texas. I chose four of those stories, developed them into case studies and presented them in October 2010 to the EPA in North Carolina. In December, I traveled a long way from Texas and presented them in Washington, D.C.
Texas has long been the capital of the U.S. oil and gas industry. But the U.S. natural gas boom has brought a new wave of drilling activity to the state, with thousands of drilling rigs and production facilities puncturing the landscape of the region around Forth Worth, known as the Barnett Shale. The new boom and the state's industry-friendly regulatory system mean that Texas is failing to protect residents from the hazards of gas drilling and production.
There are a LOT MORE than 4 'Bad News' Fracking Stories, however ... sadly ...
EarthJustice: Fracking Across the United States
Each of the [skull & crossbones] symbols below represents one of these Fraccidents.
So how does Fracking work, exactly? ... Short Answer: Not without creating a whole lot of side-effect problems.
EarthWorks: Hydraulic Fracturing 101
[...] Typically, in order to create fractures a mixture of water, proppants (sand or ceramic beads) and chemicals is pumped into the rock or coal formation.
[Fracking Diagram -- Hydraulic Fracturing Operation]
Eventually, the formation will not be able to absorb the fluid as quickly as it is being injected. At this point, the pressure created causes the formation to crack or fracture. The fractures are held open by the proppants, and the oil or gas is then able to flow through the fractures to the well. Some of the fracturing fluids are pumped out of the well and into surface pits or tanks during the process of extracting oil, gas and any produced water, but studies have shown that anywhere from 20-40% of fracing fluids may remain underground.
Many fracturing fluids contain chemicals that can be toxic to humans and wildlife, and chemicals that are known to cause cancer. These include potentially toxic substances such as diesel fuel, which contains benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; methanol; formaldehyde; ethylene glycol; glycol ethers; hydrochloric acid; and sodium hydroxide. Very small quantities of chemicals such as benzene, which causes cancer, are capable of contaminating millions of gallons of water.
According to the EPA study, and studies conducted by the oil and gas industry,  between 20 and 40% of the fracturing fluids may remain in the formation, which means the fluids could continue to be a source of groundwater contamination for years to come.
Ugh! I thought NG was supposed to BE CLEAN !?
I told you, those cheerful 10 Point PSA NG ads, were conveniently leaving out a few things.
SO, next time, someone says Natural Gas is the Answer, you can say wait a second ... NG has more than a few serious problems -- that FIRST need to be "seriously addressed" before Americans can seriously buy into the NG Clean Energy pitch ... hook, line, and sinker.
Natural Gas is NOT simply a Good News Story -- Far from it, if you take the time to "drill behind" the industry spokespersons and the cheery Ads.