As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.
This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Natural Gas Energy.
Summary – Natural Gas Pros & Cons
- Emits less greenhouse gas than other fossil fuels whilst burning
- Emits less ambient air pollution whilst burning than other fossil fuels
- Is inexpensive as an energy source
- Employs a lot of people
- Has wide availability
- Has established distribution networks
- Can be turned on and ramped up to provide electricity very quickly
- Biogas (RNG) is renewable
- Not a green energy source (still emits greenhouse gases)
- Not renewable – is finite like other fossil fuels
- Mining for oil can have massive negative environmental side effects
- Fracking can have massive negative environmental side effects
- Gas infrastructure ages and can leak and have explosions or gas fires
Overall, natural gas is a cleaner and cheaper energy source than coal and oil. Major countries like the US and China are increasing their demand for natural gas. It is considered a ‘bridge’ energy source and fuel source between fossil fuels like coal and oil, to renewable energy like solar, wind, water etc. Over the next century or so, natural gas should be a prominent energy source
- Natural gas is a growing industry. Countries with large shale gas reserves, like China, are attempting to replicate the U.S.’s fracking success. Gas companies are looking at ways to make transporting liquid natural gas cheaper, with the hopes of reaching new markets without the need for building expensive pipelines. The use of compressed natural gas as vehicle fuel, though small, is steadily growing in buses, garbage trucks and other kinds of municipal fleets. Researchers are working on ways to extract the potentially vast amounts of natural gas reserves trapped beneath the ocean in gas hydrates.
- In 2016, the lower 48 states of the United States reached record levels of demand and consumption.
- The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates there are at least 6,800 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of proved natural gas reserves. The world is currently consuming a hefty 120 TCF a year, which means at least another 56 years of reserves.
- However consumption is growing every year and the EIA projects it will have doubled by 2040.
- Natural gas companies will need to discover new, unproved reserves and develop new ways to extract the natural gas in order to keep up with the increasing demand.
- Now considered cleaner and cheaper than coal, it supplies 22% of the world’s energy, used in heating, electricity generation and even as engine fuel.
- It’s also heavily used in industrial applications, such as producing plastics and fertilizer.
- The top natural gas producers are the U.S., Russia, Iran and Canada.
– environmentalscience.org, and renewableresourcescoalition.org
*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.
What Is Natural Gas
- Natural gas is a fossil fuel, like oil and coal.
- It’s formed from decayed organic material transformed by high temperatures and pressures over millions of years into bubbles of methane gas.
- Conventional sources are found in underground gas fields or oil fields. Unconventional sources are more challenging to extract because the gas is locked inside the sediment.
- These include coal bed methane (trapped in the coalbed), tight gas (trapped in sandstone), gas hydrates (trapped in ice) and shale gas (trapped in shale).
- This last source is frequently in the headlines, thanks to advances in hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking.
- Natural gas can be used for households, businesses and vehicles
- Renewable natural gas (RNG) and conventional natural gas, must be compressed (CNG) or liquefied (LNG) for use in vehicles.
- Renewable natural gas (RNG) is essentially biogas—the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter—that has been processed to purity standards.
Natural Gas Energy Pros
- Emits Less Greenhouse Gases Than Other Fossil Fuels When Burning – Natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, producing half the carbon dioxide as coal and about a third less than oil.
- Emits Less General Air Pollution Than Other Fossil Fuels – It also emits fewer amounts of toxic chemicals like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.
- It’s Inexpensive As An Energy Source – In the U.S. market, it is an abundant resource and currently the cheapest source of electrical power (an average of 6 cents per kilowatt hour, vs 9 cents for coal and hydroelectric and 11 cents for solar).
- The Gas Industry Employs A lot Of People – The natural gas industry employs over 600,000 people. That figure is likely to only go up as more reserves are developed. There’s also additional jobs like engineers, construction workers, service technicians, lawyers etc. that are employed through the oil industry. The natural gas industry in the U.S. supports 2.8 million jobs, according to the America’s Natural Gas Alliance.
- Wide Availability – Natural gas is available domestically in many countries.
- Established Distribution Networks – natural gas already has distribution networks built.
- Can Be Turned On & Provide Electricity Very Quickly – Where it takes hours or even days to cycle coal or nuclear plants up and down, natural gas units can be fired up at will with just minutes’ notice. They can do what no weather-based system can do: be turned on. Which is why, in Texas – which leads the world in wind power capacity – you need to build offsetting natural gas power capacity for every wind turbine or solar array that gets installed. (bseec.org)
- Biogas Is Renewable – Renewable natural gas (RNG) is essentially biogas—the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter.
– environmentalscience.org, afdc.energy.gov, yaleclimateconnections.org, bseec.org
Natural Gas Energy Cons
- Not A Green Energy Source – it emits carbon dioxide during it’s use, which is not desirable for minimising climate change. Also, the extraction process for natural gas can release methane into the atmosphere if done improperly – which is a greenhouse gas 20 times stronger than C02. Flaring at oil fields can also release methane. 33 percent of total methane emissions come from emissions from the natural gas and petroleum industries.
- Not Renewable – apart from renewable biogas, there are finite supplies of natural gas available. This is in comparison to solar, wind, and water energy for example which are renewable and almost unlimited.
- Fracking Can Have Big Environmental Issues – There is considerable debate about the environmental damage caused by fracking. While the evidence of groundwater contamination by drilling is mixed, there is more of a danger of contamination from poor transportation, storage and disposal practices of fracking wastewater. Micro-earthquakes are also a side effect of fracking.
- Gas Infrastructure – infrastructure in the US is aging in the US, with gas pipelines vulnerable to leaks and explosions. A recent LA leak caused the equivalent of annual greenhouse gas emissions from 572,000 cars. Gas pipelines are also not cheap. It’s also worth noting that in countries like China, transitioning to natural gas infrastructure from the current coal infrastructure can be a challenge.
– environmentalscience.org, yaleclimateconnections.org