The environmental activists pushed out a national shock and awe campaign this week to try overwhelm people with a silly assertion that natural gas isn’t as clean as coal. A well publicized report by “The Global Energy Monitor” had Canadian Press, CBC and the Globe and Mail trying to tell Canadians that the world’s climate will suffer if natural gas displaces coal.
I have to give them credit for recycling at least. This is the third time in the last seven years that environmental activists have put out the idea that coal is cleaner than natural gas. When this idea first emerged in the United States debate in 2012, it was respectable environmental groups, like World Watch, who helped shoot it down. For anyone who wants to believe this ridiculous idea, I invite you to move your “clean” hibachi briquette barbeque inside the house to replace your now “dirty” natural gas stove.
After all pollution from coal including particulates, nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and heavy metals (also known as smog) is responsible for thousands of deaths annually in the United States and Canada. Imagine the irresponsibility of activists groups trying to create an environmental embargo on Asia where people are desperate for clean air quality like ours.
Natural gas has a green reputation dating from the seventies when smog was so bad in major North American cities that it was causing widespread respiratory problems. Smog has improved but remains a health risk for some. Compared to coal, natural gas has 4,000 times less sulfur dioxide and 5 times less nitrous oxide, the two principal causes of smog and acid rain.
The narrow idea the activists have raised again after being thoroughly debunked twice is that methane is a stronger greenhouse gas. Thus, heretofore undiscovered hidden methane leaks are so big that it undoes all the clean work of natural gas.
Apparently, they didn’t get the most recent memo on this issue. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) performed a satellite-based study of methane, since US activists refused to accept the extensive bottom up analysis done by the Obama Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA found fugitives were 1.2%. The NOAA found them to be 20% to 60% higher than the EPA estimated after reconciling the isotopes from biogenic gas and thermogenic gas. But that was still much less than the implausible 3.2% needed to even begin to argue that natural gas has climate impacts approaching coal
It is important to note the studies by the EPA and NOAA review the average fugitive emissions for all gas drilling in the United States. Industry points out that newer gas drilling sites have much better more modern equipment and control systems. Their estimates are that fugitives are now under 1% for new sites. Not to mention that in Canada not only do we have high quality extractions methods, any LNG that we may export in the future will be compressed with zero emissions hydroelectrity.
Almost all environmental observers, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute, World Watch and Greenpeace have acknowledged in the past that on a full cycle basis natural gas has much fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal.
Recycling is a good thing. So is just the tiniest bit of research. This issue of natural gas being the cleanest of the hydrocarbons is now well established science. My suggestion is to use these mainstream media reports of this warmed-over activism as fire starter to light the coals in your outdoor Hibachi barbeque.
is the CEO of Questerre Energy