New Study Indicates That Increased Natural Gas Use Will Not Slow Climate Change

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online
While the influx of natural gas could alter where the world gets its energy from, it is unlikely to slow the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions over the long term, according to new research published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.
In the study, Haewon McJeon, an economist at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and his colleagues explain that using hydraulic fracturing technologies to process shale gas resources is not an effective substitute for climate change mitigation policy, and could ultimately do more harm than good.
Since natural gas emits half as much CO2 as coal, many experts were hopeful that the recent natural gas boom could help slow down climate change, the authors said. While government analyses did indicate that natural gas did play a role in declining US carbon emissions from 2007 through 2012, reliance upon shale processing could hamper the development of other, more economical energy sources such as wind, solar and nuclear energy.
“The effect is that abundant natural gas alone will do little to slow climate change,” McJeon explained in a statement. “Global deployment of advanced natural gas production technology could double or triple the global natural gas production by 2050, but greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow in the absence of climate policies that promote lower carbon energy sources.”
According to Associated Press (AP) writer Seth Borenstein, computer simulations conducted by the research team revealed that a vast expansion of natural gas (also known as methane) use by 2050 would not only fail to reduce greenhouse emissions worldwide, but could actually cause them to increase over the next three and a half decades.
Fracking and ultra-deep water drilling have increased natural gas supplies so much that the prices are expected to remain relatively low for several years, Borenstein said, making it more difficult for renewable and other more eco-friendly sources of power to compete. Five teams of experts each conducted their own computer simulations analyzing what would happen if methane remained cheap and freely available with no other changes occurring.
All five teams came to the same conclusion, the AP reporter said: the use of natural gas does not reduce climate change. In fact, two of the computer models even found that, factoring in things like methane leaks, less expensive natural gas could even increase the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases. However, McJeon noted that each of the projections differed enough to make it hard to definitely conclude that increased methane use would actually make things worse.
“When we looked at it, abundant gas is not going to solve the climate change problem on its own without accompanying climate policies,” the lead author told Discovery News reporter Eric Niiler. Niiler added that while the new study “didn’t endorse any specific climate policies,” the findings seem to indicate that “renewable energy still needs some kind of subsidies or price protections if governmental leaders are serious about putting less carbon dioxide in the air.”