From: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Published October 16, 2014 06:22 AM

Abundant natural gas will not slow climate change according to new study

A new analysis of global energy use, economics and the climate shows that without new climate policies, expanding the current bounty of inexpensive natural gas alone would not slow the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide over the long term, according to a study appearing today in Nature Advanced Online Publication.

Because natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, many people hoped the recent natural gas boom could help slow climate change — and according to government analyses, natural gas did contribute partially to a decline in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2012. But, in the long run, according to this study, a global abundance of inexpensive natural gas would compete with all energy sources — not just higher-emitting coal, but also lower-emitting nuclear and renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. Inexpensive natural gas would also accelerate economic growth and expand overall energy use.

"The effect is that abundant natural gas alone will do little to slow climate change," said lead author Haewon McJeon, an economist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Global deployment of advanced natural gas production technology could double or triple the global natural gas production by 2050, but greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow in the absence of climate policies that promote lower carbon energy sources."

Thinking Globally

Recent advances in gas production technology based on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — have led to bountiful, low-cost natural gas. Because gas emits far less carbon dioxide than coal, some researchers have linked the natural gas boom to recent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. But could these advanced technologies also have an impact on emissions beyond North America and decades into the future?

To find out, a group of scientists, engineers and policy experts, led by PNNL's Joint Global Change Research Institute, gathered at a workshop in Cambridge, Maryland, in April 2013 to consider the long-term impact of an expansion of the current natural gas boom on the rest of the world. The researchers, hailing from the U.S., Australia, Austria, Germany and Italy, went home and projected what the world would be like in 2050 with and without a global natural gas boom. The five teams used different computer models that had been independently developed.

Gas storage vessels image via Shutterstock.

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