Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Natural vs. Unnatural Gas

There’s gas and there’s gasoline and then there are gaseous elements such as Oxygen, Helium, Hydrogen, Neon and Nitrogen and there are gaseous compounds such as Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Dioxide and Methane. And that brings us to our current interest: Natural Gas.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and in its pure state is said to be nontoxic, abundant with a clean burning process.

So what’s all the current fuss about natural gas not being a truly “green” fuel?

Ok, a short reminder of what “a green fuel” is. The general meaning of Green Energy is energy that is produced in a manner that has less of an undesirable impact on the ecology or environment of the earth than do more harmful energy sources like the fossil fuels, coal oil and gas.

The “greener” energy forms are solar, wind, geothermal and most important and cleanest – hydropower.

So the argument for natural gas being a cleaner or greener form of energy turns out to be one of degree. In other words, as we will see, natural gas (NG) is only somewhat cleaner than the other fossil fuels.

Examples: When burned NG produces 29% less carbon dioxide than oil and 44% less than coal. When it comes to sulfur dioxide NG is 1,122 times cleaner than oil and 2,591 times cleaner than coal. But NG only appears green when compared to the other fossil sources. Actually it burns cleaner than the others BUT IT IS NOT CLEAN!.

And then there are always greenhouse gasses (GHGs) to consider. NG produces less of them than coal or oil but it still emits a large amount of the GHGs also. As one expert in Otego, New York pointed out, “Burning as much as possible of something producing relatively less GHGs is not the best way to reduce GHGs.” True enough

There are lot of concerned voices out there and among them are Stan Cox who in writing for CommonDreams.com has said, among other meaningful things, “Holding out the prospect of vast new domestic resources, the natural gas industry is promising to make the United States an energy-rich nation once again. But we should be careful what we wish for. Spending those riches could endanger water supplies for millions of Americans while still failing to solve the climate crisis.”

In other words natural gas is not the natural candidate to clean up the atmosphere and the planet.

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