While some have pushed fracked gas (or natural gas) as a less-polluting alternative to other dirty energies, new research shows that the gas industry might do just as much to raise the temperature of the Earth as coal, NPR reports.
On July 17, the journal Environmental Research Letters published the paper, which included work from researchers at NASA, Harvard University, Duke University, Brown University, and the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute.
The study considered the entire life cycle of coal and gas, examining the effects of each industry from start to finish, NPR reports.
The researchers concluded that in terms of heating up the planet, gas can be just as bad as coal, thanks to methane leaks.
Both fracked gas and coal are dirty fuels extracted from the ground, which can be burned to release energy. Coal is a solid, while “natural gas,” which is mainly composed of methane, is a vapor at room temperature. This means that coal tends to sit in one place, while methane can leak out of the pipes used to harvest and transport it and escape into the atmosphere.
Burning gas does produce less heat-trapping carbon pollution than coal, NPR reports. However, methane is also a heat-trapping gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide.
It’s difficult to know precisely how much methane is escaping into the air, so the study considered a range of possibilities.
The researchers concluded that the gas industry would be just as impactful as the coal industry even if only 0.2% of the gas were escaping — and according to NPR, the current best estimate is at least 0.65%. The upper limit was estimated to be far higher.
The world getting warmer is a serious issue for every person on Earth. A hotter climate brings less stable weather, leading to more frequent and severe natural disasters. Higher temperatures also dramatically impact human health, especially in parts of the world that are already hot and humid.
Dustin Meyer of the American Petroleum Institute released a statement claiming, “The U.S. natural gas and oil industry is leading the world in advancing innovative technology to better detect and reduce methane emissions.”
However, for the natural gas industry to be sure to reduce its impact below the level of coal, it would have to eliminate the problem of leaks — and according to NPR, many environmental groups claim those leaks are already being seriously undercounted.
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