Natural gas is the most universally accepted environmentally friendly fuel capable of replacing coal and petroleum. But a new report suggests that methane leaks exacerbate climate benefits as well as cost taxpayers millions of dollars in royalties.
The report carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International on request of Environmental Defense Fund took into account the amount of leaks from natural gas production on federal and tribal lands in the United States. It also counted the gas purposefully let into the atmosphere, mostly for safety, during venting and flaring processes.
Whether natural gas is environmental friendly depends on how much methane leaks during the production process. But the EDF supports the argument of those who believe that methane leaks at natural gas site are as carbon intensive as coal.
In 2013, 65bn cubic feet of natural gas was released into the atmosphere, amounting to $360m of lost gas. Methane is 84X more potent than carbon dioxide over short periods of times and 30X over the long term. The methane leaks are equivalent to greenhouse gases produced by 5.6 million cars.
Local pollution caused by fracking and other drilling operations such as increased smog levels, methane hot sports are also a concern, according to EDF. Natural gas drilling can be termed environmentally beneficially over coal and petroleum only if producers can bring down the gas leaks to no more than 3% through the entire production process. In fact it is possible to bring down the 3% leak to 1% or climate neutral only if drilling operators applied better practices.