How Green Is Gas?



spacer.gifBy John Richardson

THE blog has been attending the 25th World Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week where one of the themes repeated on numerous occasions has been the wonderful environment benefits of natural gas.

Poor old coal and crude-oil have received short shrift as presentation after presentation has stressed how gas is cleaner-burning.

But it occurred to us that:

*The age of natural gas abundance, thanks to shale gas, tight gas, coal-bed methane and improved technologies for accessing remote conventional reserves, such as in the arctic circle, might not be good news for the most effective means of lowering emissions: Conservation. There is now some 250 years worth of global natural gas reserves. Might not this tempt countries to guzzle their way through their reserves? This could especially be so in the US if it enjoys a manufacturing and therefore economic revival, given its history of energy profligacy.

*A typical shale gas field, we were told, contains more than 100 individual wells. As the shale gas revolution sweeps across the world, is it realistic to expect high production standards at every one of these many thousands of wells? If standards slip, which seems quite possible, we could see a big increase in the release of methane during natural-gas extraction and, of course, methane is a far more potent global-warming gas than carbon dioxide.

*The gas industry dismisses claims that fracking causes groundwater pollution. Nobody disputes, however, that the fracking process consumes a lot of water. If shale gas takes off in water-stressed countries such as China, the environmental consequence could be very severe.

*As the liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade expands, so will the emissions from moving these giant ships around the world, plus, of course, all the other energy required to refrigerate, regassify and distribute the gas.

Environmentalists are already going after the shale gas industry in a big way.

If the issues we have listed above are not convincingly addressed, one can imagine increasing pressure from environmentalists on the gas industry as a whole, which would also be applied to petrochemicals capacity downstream of gas production.

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