Natural Gas and Climate Policy Laser Talk

Question:  Where does natural gas fit in climate policy?

Answer: Natural gas produces fossil-based CO2, but significantly less than coal or oil for the same amount of energy produced. [1] When burned for electricity, that advantage widens because modern natural gas power plants are much more efficient than coal plants. [2]

Unlike coal, though, natural gas can leak into the air. When that happens, its main component – methane – is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. [3] Estimates of ‘fugitive emissions’ vary from 1.2 to 3.3 percent of natural gas consumed, [4,5] but an in-depth 2017 analysis of  available literature concluded that even with current leakage, replacing coal-generated power with state-of-the-art natural gas power still reduces GHG emissions by about 45 percent. [6]

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act may not apply the carbon fee to leaked methane in the near term, because scientific consensus on accurate measurement and attribution is lacking. It does, however, allow continuation of an ongoing EPA program to cut industrial leakage of natural gas by 40 to 45 percent. [7]

CCL holds that a 90 percent cut in covered greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as mandated by H.R.763, is necessary to achieve a livable future. How long can natural gas remain in the mix and still meet this target? Should it serve as backup for intermittent renewables like wind and solar? [8] Can it be safely combined with CO2 capture and sequestration? [9] Should it be used in transportation? [10]

CCL maintains that the aggressive carbon pricing schedule of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, in concert with continuing federal regulations to cut methane leakage, will compel the marketplace to answer these questions in the most effective, efficient, and long-lasting way.

  1. “Emissions Factors for Greenhouse Gas Inventories.” U.S. EPA (4 Apr 2014).
  2. “What is the efficiency of different types of power plants?” U.S. Energy Information Administration (10 May 2017).
  3. “Understanding Global Warming Potentials.” U.S. EPA (accessed 24 Apr 2018).
  4. “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016: Executive Summary.” U.S. EPA (12 Apr 2018).
  5. Howarth, R.W. “A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas.” Editorial in Energy Science & Engineering 2:47-60 (22 Apr 2014).
  6. Scull, B. D., et al. “Upstream Emissions of Coal and Gas.” New York, NY: Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, p. 3 (24 May 2017).
  7. Tsang, L. “EPA’s Methane Regulations: Legal Overview.” Congressional Research Service (24 Jan 2018).
  8. Kraft, A. “How Competition of Renewables vs. Gas is Evolving.” PointLogic Energy (30 Aug 2017).
  9. McMahon, J. “Too Good To Be True? Carbon Capture ‘Game Changer’ Raises Hopes And Questions.” Forbes (16 Jan 2018).
  10. “Natural Gas Vehicles.” U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center (18 Apr 2017).

This page was updated on 07/22/19 at 22:03 CDT.

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