Natural Gas as a “Transition Fuel” Laser Talk

Burning natural gas produces less CO2 than coal or oil for the same amount of energy produced [1]. However, if only 3.2% of natural gas escapes into the atmosphere anywhere from the ground where it is extracted to the powerplant, stove, or home where it is burned, then natural gas is just as bad for the climate as coal [2].

Recent studies suggest that more than 3.2% leaks, partly due to the 50-year old (on average) long-distance pipeline infrastructure used to transport it [3].

If the leakage problem can be solved natural gas could serve as a transition fuel while we convert to renewable energy.

One way to do this is through regulation. If current regulations remain in force, then the problem of methane leakage may be solved. If not, then we can include the Environmental Protection Agency’s best estimate of average methane leakage in the fee on natural gas.

Germany and Portugal skipping over gas as a “transition” fuel

Germany has shifted from getting 6% of its electricity from renewables in 2000 to 25% in 2012 [4]. On one day in April 2013, 167 GWh of its electricity came from solar, equivalent to 8 nuclear reactors running full tilt for 24 hours [5]. Germany shares a few degrees of latitude with Alaska, and is further north than any other US state except the northernmost slivers of our northernmost states [6]. Portugal went from 17% of its electricity from renewables in 2005 [7] to 70% averaged over the entire first quarter of 2013[8]. That’s an increase of 53%.

Skeptic Claims and One-Liners

Carbon Fee Skeptic Claim: Natural gas is the transition fuel to a renewable economy.
One-Liner: Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, and because when unburned it is much more potent than CO2, if even 3.2% leaks it heats the planet as much as burning coal.

  1. US Energy Information Administration. “Frequently Asked Questions”. US EIA.
  2. Ramón A. Alvareza,1, Stephen W. Pacalab,1, James J. Winebrakec, William L. Chameidesd, and Steven P. Hamburg. “Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure”. 2012. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 109 (17). pps 6435-6440.
  3. Robert W. Howarth & Renee Santoro & Anthony Ingraffea. “Venting and leaking of methane from shale gas development: response to Cathles et al.”. 2012. Climatic Change. DOI 10.1007/s10584-012-0401-0.
  4. Tara Lohan. “While Germany Is Headed for 80% Renewable Energy, We’re Getting Left in the Dust”. Nov. 21, 2012.
  5. Thomas. “Solar Power Record In Germany — 22.68 GW — Infographic”. April 16, 2013. Clean Technica.
  6. Google Earth.
  7. Elisabeth Rosenthal. “Portugal gives itself a clean-energy makeover.” August 9, 2010. The New York Times.
  8. Ryan Koronowski. “Is 70 Percent Renewable Power Possible? Portugal Just Did It For 3 Months”. April 14, 2013. Think Progress.

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