A case study of the Barnett Shale region in Texas, where hydraulic fracturing was first implemented, for the first time provides quantifiable information on the life cycle land use of generating electricity from natural gas based on physical measurements instead of using assumptions and averages that were previously used for evaluation.
Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) studied satellite images of a seven-county area as well as data from Texas regulators on production, processing, and the transportation of natural gas. The journal Nature Energy published their findings, “Understanding the life cycle surface land requirements of natural gas-fired electricity,” in its latest issue.
The research team’s expertise in life cycle assessments of energy technology production and use proved important in developing a methodology for land use requirements for natural gas production in the Barnett Shale region. The “cradle to grave” assessment pinpoints environmental issues and enables fair comparisons of energy technologies.
“NREL has already studied land use for renewable technologies,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at NREL and a co-author of the paper. “It’s harder to do for a non-renewable resource because there are more steps in the supply chain and you have to understand the fuel throughput each step of the way. It’s much more complicated.”
Sarah Jordaan, assistant professor of Energy, Resources and Environment at Johns Hopkins SAIS and lead author of the paper, was a natural fit for the team, having published several papers on the topic. “General statements comparing the land use of energy technologies have not been verified with enough data or rigorous methods,” she said. “Defensible comparisons really require substantial datasets that enable comprehensive statistical analyses. Our research is a step towards that.”
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Image source: Dennis Schroeder/NREL