Gas is a Fossil Fuel That Causes Climate Change
Gas use produces about a third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption (carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas behind human-caused climate change).
Gas is now the biggest driver of carbon pollution growth worldwide, and has overtaken coal as the largest source of carbon pollution from the U.S. power sector. In addition, methane, the main component of gas, is a super potent greenhouse gas responsible for about a quarter of manmade global warming – and possibly more. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global gas use must decline by 45% by 2050 if the world is going to meet its climate goals and avoid catastrophic warming.
Methane Emissions Are Skyrocketing
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported a historic and disturbing surge of methane in the atmosphere, coinciding with the massive increase in oil and gas production from fracking in the United States and elsewhere.
Scientists say this “unexpected and sustained” surge in methane is so great it may overwhelm all emissions reduction efforts made under the Paris Agreement, which was premised on stable methane levels.
Fossil Fuel Operations Emit Far More Methane Than We Previously Thought
An ongoing wave of scientific studies documents that methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas system are growing; that they are much, much higher than Environmental Protection Agency estimates; and that they are higher than estimated previously in scientific literature.
One recent study published in the journal Nature indicates that gas and coal operations are responsible for emitting 25% to 40% more methane than previously thought – and thus account for about half of the methane in our atmosphere stemming from human activities. Meanwhile, natural sources of methane such as wetlands, underwater seeps, and mud volcanoes account for less methane in the atmosphere than previously thought. This is good news: Unlike methane emissions from natural sources, we can do something about emissions from fossil fuels.
The Gas Industry Releases Methane With Impunity
The gas industry leaks – and often intentionally releases, or vents – massive amounts of methane at every stage of the production and distribution system, from extraction to storage to pipeline transmission and delivery.
In a December 2019 report, The New York Times used infrared cameras to identify large methane leaks that aren’t visible to the naked eye. In one Texas oil field, Times’ reporters spotted six major leaks releasing unusually high amounts of methane – between 300 to 1,100 pounds per hour. Releases of 60 pounds or more an hour are considered “super emitters.”
We Can Make Huge Climate Gains by Quickly – and Cheaply – Cutting Methane Emissions From Gas
Because methane causes more intense warming than carbon dioxide in the short- to medium-term, reducing gas emissions promises rapid climate benefits that could help buy crucial time in the race to prevent catastrophic warming.
Even better, we have the technology to do this quickly and cheaply: The International Energy Agency estimates industry can reduce worldwide gas emissions by 75% – and about half of those reductions could be realized at zero net cost.