Is Natural Gas a Clean Energy Source?

Similar to oil and coal, natural gas is a fossil fuel formed from the remains of plants and animals. Proponents of natural gas are portraying it as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil. A report published in April 2024 states that natural gas plays an important role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

But academics and lawmakers are slamming this report, claiming that this depiction of natural gas as a green and climate-friendly fuel is misleading.


What is natural gas

Back in the early 19th century, the residents of Fredonia, New York, stumbled upon a curious phenomenon. They noticed that the gas bubbling up in a local creek would ignite when lit. Seizing this opportunity, a local businessman started capturing this gas in 1821 and sold it as a fuel source to the shops in Fredonia.

This new fuel source, nicknamed “nature's gas”, was not only cheaper to transport than the whale oil and coal gas used at the time, but it also appeared to be a cleaner alternative.

This “nature’s gas” eventually became natural gas and we started to view it as healthy, clean, and environmentally friendly.

Is natural gas good for the environment?

A new and efficient natural gas power plant emits around 50% less carbon dioxide (CO2) during combustion when compared with a typical coal-based power plant.

Proponents of natural gas have taken this argument to claim that it is cleaner as compared to oil and coal as it generates less carbon dioxide when burned.

While that is true, this provides an incomplete picture. CO2 isn’t the only harmful emission generated by natural gas development.

The extraction of natural gas results in the emission of methane, the main constituent of natural gas which is around 120 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat and 80 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Environmental impacts of natural gas extraction

We can't ignore the environmental problems of natural gas extraction.

Fracking, the process used to extract natural gas, involves drilling deep into the earth and injecting liquid into subterranean rock at very high pressure.

The boreholes that carry the gas back up to the surface travel straight through the water-bearing rocks, called aquifers, where many of us get our water.

The injected fracking fluid often contains dangerous chemicals that no one would want to drink – and if the borehole is not properly cased, those chemicals can escape into groundwater.

So, natural gas is still a fossil fuel, and simply replacing oil and coal with it won’t help us reach our climate goals.

We need to move to cleaner sources such as wind and solar that don’t harm our health and destroy our planet.


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