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Natural Gas Benefits and Drawbacks

LNG carrier

Despite the fact that natural gas is a fossil fuel, we need this low-carbon source of power and heat to make the transition from dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil, to clean and renewable sources of power.

This colorless, odorless and potent fuel is very important today for the world’s energy supply and is becoming even more important in the fight against climate change.

In the past, natural gas was seen only as a waste product of the oil industry, and was burned off at the wellhead, but today, natural gas’s contribution to the world’s energy supply will increase year after year, while the use of coal will decrease.

This way, mankind will replace a fossil fuel that is very harmful for the environment (coal), with one that is considered a low-carbon energy source and is much friendlier with nature (natural gas).

Let’s see what are the natural gas benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits of Natural Gas

1. Is a low-carbon energy source

Despite the fact that we are talking about another fossil fuel, natural gas burns cleaner than coal and oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants released when burning.

Producing about 50 percent less emissions and air pollutants than coal when burning, natural gas can lower the carbon-footprint of your home, and this way, your impact on the environment is reduced.

2. Is considered a game-changer when it comes to home heating

We all know that January and February are considered the coldest months of the year, when the central heating system of the house consumes a lot of fuel to heat the building.

However, after switching to natural gas, many home owners reported huge savings (around 30 percent per month), compared to the previous period when they relied on fuel oil, hydro, wood or propane.

This means that using natural gas we can heat our home and provide hot tap water at a lower price while reducing the carbon-foot of the building.

3. Natural gas is a mixture of substances that can be used in different ways

Beside methane (which is the main component of natural gas), we can find other compounds in smaller quantities like ethane, propane, butane, pentane, etc. All these natural gas liquids (NGLs), are separated from the main gas and sold individually for various uses such as refrigerants and to produce plastics.

Natural gas transported through pipelines is used in your kitchen for cooking and for domestic and industrial heating. The same fossil fuel in gaseous state is used for power generation in gas-fired power plants.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is used as fuel in vehicles with internal combustion engines, releasing a smaller amount of emissions than gasoline or diesel fuel.

Natural gas is also used as feedstock for fertilizers, hydrogen fuel cell production, etc.

Hydrogen can be produced through a process called natural gas reforming and also through gasification.

4. Natural gas can be easily transported in liquefied form

In terms of mass, natural gas has a high energy density, which means that we can convert natural gas into liquid form to dramatically reduce its volume.

LNG or liquefied natural gas is 600 times smaller in volume than the same amount of LNG in gaseous form. Being so small in liquid form, we can transport it much easier by sea.

When reaching its destination, LNG is turned back into a gas using a process called gasification.

The process used to liquefy and gasify natural gas is a complex process and is called LNG chain.

Drawbacks of Natural Gas

1. Can’t be considered a ‘Bridge’ towards renewables

Many consider today that natural gas can help us make the transition from a society based mainly on very dirty fossil fuels such as coal and oil, to a society based mainly on low-carbon fuels like natural gas and clean energy sources like the renewable sources of power.

In reality instead, the use of natural gas is only decreasing the use of coal (which is beneficial for the environment), but continues to pollute the environment and increase the greenhouse gas effect on our planet, which leads to global warming and climate change.

To really make the transition to a society consuming mainly renewable energy, we need investments to increase the generation capacity for solar, wind and other renewables, instead of building pipelines for natural gas transportation from one country to another.

2. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide

Natural gas isn’t going to help the U.S. and other countries on the planet meet their goals of the Paris Agreement and limiting temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.

The increased consumption of natural gas in the United States has decreased the use of coal, which also reduced the emissions. However, because we live in a society that consumes more and more resources, the increased consumption of fossil fuels (including natural gas) has lead again to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

We know that methane, a main component of natural gas, is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Due to the fact we continue to use natural gas as fuel for power generation and heating (natural gas being cleaner than coal), we are just extending the time to a climate disaster instead of stopping it.

3. Is cleaner than coal but harmful for our health and the environment

Shifting the reliance from dirty fossil fuels like coal to natural gas only halves the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, so by using natural gas we keep polluting the environment the same way as before.

Do you think that we consume more natural gas than coal today because natural gas is cleaner?

Well, I have to tell you that the increased consumption of natural gas occurred only after natural gas become cheaper due to the U.S. fracking revolution, so not because natural gas burns cleaner than coal.

Instead of increasing the investments in natural gas through pipelines, markets for LNG (liquefied natural gas), or converting coal plant to natural gas plants, we should invest the money into increasing the generation capacity for renewable energy with zero emissions.

To really reduce the emissions, we have to stop drilling and fracking for natural gas and other fossil fuels.

These fossil resources should be left in the ground for good, because delaying the transition to clean energy and doubling down on fossil fuels infrastructure (pipelines) will continue to hurt our health, the environment, our wallets and the climate in the long-run.

Final thought

Natural gas is considered by many ‘a bridge’ towards a future dominated by renewables, but it seems that instead of investing our resource to increase the share of renewable energy in the energy mix of the planet, we keep developing pipelines for natural gas.

These pipelines can transport natural gas between countries much faster, but the use of this low-carbon fuel keeps polluting the environment and harming our health.

Article written by:

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars. Danny Ovy

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