Natural gas has become a hot – you see what we did there – topic now that we’re dealing with a little issue called the climate crisis/impending doom. On the one hand, natural gas is a relatively clean-burning source of energy that is fairly inexpensive. However, there are alternatives to consider, too.
Burning natural gas releases fewer carbon dioxide emissions than coal or petroleum products, which is a big plus. According to the EIA, “The clean burning properties of natural gas have contributed to increased natural gas use for electricity generation and as a transportation fuel for fleet vehicles in the United States.”
That being said, when we drill and process natural gas, sometimes that gas leaks into the atmosphere from wells, tanks, pipelines and processing plants. Not great. Natural gas is made up primarily of methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gas emissions directly contribute to global warming and the breakdown of the environment. The most well-known bad boy of greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide. However, methane is nearly 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
While methane emissions do contribute to the climate crisis, the most immediate environmental concern with natural gas is the result of drilling. Drilling a natural gas well can disturb fragile ecosystems, produce air pollution and demolish large areas of land. Drilling and processing natural gas can also lead to a lot of contaminated water. Even your new Brita won’t be able to handle this level of contamination, friends.
Another issue is the environmental impact of natural gas flaring. Sometimes, we mine natural gas, but it doesn’t make sense to pay to transport it to sell because we won’t get enough money for it. So instead, it is burned, or flared, at the well site. Flaring produces carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and many other chemical compounds that are released into the atmosphere. And flaring has been on the increase.
To sum it up, natural gas can hurt the environment, but it isn’t as bad as coal or gasoline. There’s some disagreement over whether we should rely on natural gas as we transition away from coal. Many believe natural gas won’t solve the climate crisis at all – and that we need to switch to purely renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind energy.