New Study Confirms Environmental Benefits of Natural Gas

A new study released by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) confirms once again that natural gas has clear environmental benefits. The study finds that the greenhouse gases emitted during the production and use of shale gas are still low enough for it to retain its well-established environmental advantage.

One of the study’s key findings is that, at the point of combustion, “Shale gas is 30 percent to 55 percent less intensive than traditional fuel sources.”  Given that natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, this makes sense.  And what about emissions during natural gas production? The South Africa DEA study explains:

 “[T]he relative GHG emissions intensity of shale gas compared with conventional gas as well as other fossil fuels has been questioned given the extraction techniques and technologies (i.e. hydraulic fracturing) employed to access the gas and the estimated rates of fugitive emissions along the life cycle of the gas. The latter is considered by many studies to be potentially significant (although the degree to which varies across studies) but largely controllable using various mitigation technologies and methods.” (p. 15)

New technologies being used during production and distribution include:

  • Low-bleed pneumatic controllers/devices or no-bleed instrument air devices
  • Glycol dehydrator emissions controls
  • Dry seal systems
  • Improved reciprocating compressor maintenance
  • Pipeline maintenance and repair
  • Desiccant dehydrators
  • Green completion
  • Plunger lift systems
  • Vapor recovery units
  • Leak detection and repair
  • Eliminate venting and minimize flaring

Of course, as EPA’s latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory has shown, thanks to voluntary efforts by producers, methane emissions from natural gas production have declined dramatically and rapidly.  In fact, for many years natural gas production was the largest source of methane emissions, followed by agriculture.  But this year agriculture overtook natural gas systems, due to a significant decline in emissions from the latter.

That’s not all, either: a study by the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund also found low methane emissions rates, demonstrating that natural gas retains clear environmental benefits, contrary to what activists opposed to hydraulic fracturing frequently allege.

Shale development continues to be the shot in the arm for the U.S economy, but it has also significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and led to cleaner air across the country.  Given the clear environmental advantages of natural gas, it won’t be long before other countries around the world also take advantage of this clean-burning and job-creating natural resource, which has already brought so many benefits to the United States.

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