Liquified natural gas (LNG) and climate change


in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Natural gas is often held up as a solution to climate change, or at least a transition in the right direction, on the basis of producing less CO2 per unit of energy than oil or coal. Other factors are also relevant, however. Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4) which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. If just a few percent of the methane extracted is leaking in the form of ‘fugitive emissions’ from production facilities and pipelines that alone can make it a worse energy source than coal. Methane also has a different atmospheric lifetime. It’s actually much much worse than CO2 in the short term, but unlike CO2 which largely endures for centuries methane breaks down comparatively quickly. This may be relevant to global temperature pathways as the frontloaded impact of methane may make the peak of warming worse and raise the risk of positive feedback effects where the warming we cause induces further greenhouse gas emissions and warming which we cannot control.

There are more complicated arguments about long-term infrastructure, with some arguing that gas is substituting for worse alternatives and others saying big new gas investments are locking in our fossil fuel dependence for decades to come. There’s also always the debate about any prospective energy source versus renewables, with some arguing that options like gas or nuclear are not needed because renewables are becoming cheap so quickly, and others arguing that energy sources like gas or nuclear complement renewables. With gas, the argument is that it’s a deployable energy source you can activate only when renewables don’t supply demand (many gas plants are peaker plants that only run at times of peak demand); with nuclear, people say it’s always-on baseload energy that would provide at least something during renewable dips.

All this is highly relevant because gas production is exploding, especially because of North America’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom. A new Global Energy Monitor report describes $1.3 trillion being invested in gas infrastructure around the world. In particular, massive investments are being made in liquified natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, since unlike gas in pipelines it can be exported by ship intercontinentally.

Canada is hosting a very disproportionate amount of this investment: 35% of the global total, despite our much smaller global population and domestic share of world greenhouse gas production.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

. July 2, 2019 at 4:15 pm

‘Clean’ natural gas is actually the new coal, report says: Don Pittis

Global investment of more than $1 trillion in planned LNG plants at risk

. March 7, 2020 at 4:06 pm

Ten per cent of northeast B.C. oil and gas wells leak — more than double the reported rate in Alberta: new study

A survey of the province’s database shows wellbores releasing 14,000 cubic metres of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — every single day amid weak regulations and inconsistent monitoring

. March 7, 2020 at 4:07 pm

‘A massive liability’: B.C.’s orphan fracking wells set to double this year

Since 2016 the number of orphaned wells increased by a staggering 770 per cent. Now, as the tally grows, the province is left with contaminated sites, a leaking wastewater pond and an escalating cleanup bill estimated to be in the hundreds of millions

. March 10, 2020 at 5:30 pm
. March 10, 2020 at 5:39 pm

Already one-quarter of B.C.’s total carbon emissions come from extracting and processing fossil fuels. B.C.’s commitment to expanding fracking to supply an LNG export industry is driving the province beyond its legislated GHG targets. The B.C. government is seeking emission reductions by powering upstream fracking and processing with “clean” electricity, while continuing to be a growing exporter of fossil fuels.

This approach to managing the climate costs of fossil fuel extraction is ultimately untenable and contradictory to the spirit and intentions of the Paris Agreement. By accommodating growing emissions from fossil fuel industries, all other sectors of the economy need to tighten their belts even more if B.C. is to meet its target.

. June 20, 2020 at 1:10 am

Canada’s LNG dreams frustrated as global demand shrinks for first time in eight years

Canada now has to ship gas 4,700 kilometres to turn it into LNG and market chaos is stymieing efforts to find a shorter route

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