Improvements to the extraction process and the discovery of large deposits of natural gas have helped usher in the new king of fossil fuels. At least in the United States, but it is the fastest-growing fossil fuel in the world.
Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this fossil fuel.
What Is Natural Gas?
Natural gas (CH4) forms after millions or hundreds of millions of years pass. Plants from that era were buried under dirt and rock. The result of these plants breaking down resulted in the creation of coal, petroleum (oil), and natural gas.
Today, it accounts for 23% of all energy generation around the world. And that percentage is continuing to grow each year.
Advantages of Natural Gas
1. The Cleanest Fossil Fuel
To give credit where credit is due, natural gas is by far the cleanest fossil fuel available. For comparison, per one unit of energy natural gas will emit 50% less carbon than coal. And it beats out every other fossil fuel as well.
That said, it’s simply the cleanest option in a list of unhealthy choices.
As most fuel-based energy generating sources go, natural gas is reliable. It is only dependent on having fuel to operate the plant, which many plants have enough stock to last for weeks. Thus, bad weather will not result in blackouts.
In fact, it can generate more energy to make up for other sources that lag behind.
While it is not as abundant, or easily accessible as coal, it is still pretty plentiful. In just the United States, there is enough natural gas to support the country for an estimated 84 years. And the US isn’t the only country with huge reserves of it.
And if advancements continue along with new discoveries, that number still has room to grow.
4. Lighter than Other Fuels
A big reason why this gas caught on so fast is that it’s easy to move. In both its liquid (LNG) and gaseous (CNG) forms, this substance is much lighter than both gasoline and oil. Thus, it’s easier to transport.
That said, setting up pipelines, can be expensive.
Disadvantages of Natural Gas
1. Carbon Emissions
While it has a good reputation for being one of the cleanest fossil fuels, it’s not really all that clean. At least when it isn’t being compared to coal and oil.
Burning fossil fuels releases carbon emissions into the atmosphere, which trap heat and raise the global temperature.
While it’s better than using other fossil fuels, it’s still a massive emitter of carbon dioxide. And ultimately needs to be ditched if the world is going to achieve its climate goals.
2. Methane Emissions
One of the major criticisms of natural gas is that it doesn’t just release carbon emissions, but also methane. For reference, methane is 80 times more potent than carbon when it comes to heat-trapping potential.
Or in other words, methane makes the planet warmer 80 times faster than carbon. And natural gas usage has caused a huge uptick in methane emissions.
3. Drilling & Extraction Process
The process of extracting natural gas is known as fracking. Fracking requires a large amount of water from natural reservoirs. This not only wastes a lot of water but ends up polluting nearby streams.
This is also where most of the methane emissions come from.
And as with any other form of the mining process, it destroys local habitats and dislocates animals.
4. Pipelines & Storage Are Expensive
While Natural gas itself is cheap, the infrastructure necessary to harness it is not. Setting up pipelines to transport it or containers to store it is expensive.
Not only are their monetary costs associated with it but pipelines can take up a lot of land. And this can make tracking a leak difficult, which can lead to bigger spills due to a slow response.
A Better Alternative to Coal
Without a doubt, if renewable energy didn’t exist, natural gas would be the best option available for energy and heating. Yet, that’s not the case. While it has its advantages, it’s hard to say they outweigh the disadvantages.
With cleaner, and cheaper renewable energy sources available, it’s hard to justify the recent popularity boost.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.