Home > Gulf oil & gas disaster, lobbyists, Obama & huge threat of natural (...)

Gulf oil & gas disaster, lobbyists, Obama & huge threat of natural gas (methane) to Humanity & Biosphere

by Open-Publishing - Saturday 19 June 2010

Energy Environment USA

Methane is 72 times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2) as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20 year time scale and industrial leakage of methane (1.5% to 2.2%) has led Professor Robert Howarth, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, to conclude that "A complete consideration of all emissions from using natural gas seems likely to make natural gas far less attractive than oil and not significantly better than coal in terms of the consequences for global warming."

Yet President Barack Obama has outrageously and falsely lumped planet-threatening natural gas under "clean energy"; permitted a massive expansion of offshore gas and oil drilling; and supported the Alaska Gas Pipeline, massive expansion of on-shore gas drilling and an oil-to-gas shift for transportation.

One hopes that the Gulf oil and gas disaster tragically devastating the coastal environments of the US Gulf States will prompt sensible, informed public discussion about the immense threat that natural gas (methane) poses to Humanity and the Biosphere.

Below are some authoritative data and calculations showing that Obama espousal of natural gas (mainly methane) represents a major threat to Humanity and the Biosphere from greatly increased GHG pollution.

Consult the US Energy Information Administration (US EIA) and you will find that total natural gas production world-wide in 2008 was 137,125 billion cubic feet. [1].

The average price was for natural gas in 2008 in the US was about US$11 per 1,000 cubic feet. [2].

Accordingly we can estimate that the global value of natural gas in 2008 was about 137.125 thousand billion cubic feet x US$11/thousand cubic feet = US$1,508 billion = US$1.5 trillion.

Assuming that the natural gas is methane (CH4, molecular weight 16) global production of natural gas =
137.125 MM cubic feet x (1 cubic metre/35.3 cubic feet) x (16 g CH4/22.4 L) x (1,000L/1 cubic metre) x 1 tonne/1M g) = 2774.7 Mt (million tonnes) CH4.

On a mass basis, methane (CH4) is 72 times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2, molecular weight 44) as a greenhouse gas on a 20 year time scale i.e. it has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 72 relative to a CO2 GWP of 1. [3, 4, 5, 6].

Accordingly we should convert annual world natural gas production of 2774.7 Mt CH4 into greenhouse gas (GHG) measured in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e). 2774.7 Mt CH4 = 72 x 2774.7 Mt CO2-e = 199,778 Mt CO2-e (fortunately most of this is burned to yield CO2).

Professor Robert Howarth, Cornell University. Ithaca, New York, USA, has conservatively estimated a 1.5% leakage of industrial natural gas (methane) and concludes that “A complete consideration of all emissions from using natural gas seems likely to make natural gas far less attractive than oil and not significantly better than coal in terms of the consequences for global warming.” [3, 4].

Accordingly if we assume a 1.5% natural gas leakage then this would correspond to GHG pollution of 0.015 x 199,778 Mt CO2-e = 2,997 Mt CO2-e.

To put this in context, the current conservative estimate of global annual GHG emissions is 41,775 Mt CO2-e and a recent World Bank estimate (that reassesses the huge contribution of livestock to annual GHG pollution at over 32,564 Mt CO2-e) puts the global total at 63,803 Mt CO2-e. [7].

According to a recent timely warning in the New York Times: “some three trillion cubic feet of methane leak into the air every year, with Russia and the United States the leading sources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimate. (This amount has the warming power of emissions from over half the coal plants in the United States.) And government scientists and industry officials caution that the real figure is almost certainly higher. Unless monitoring is greatly expanded, they say, such emissions could soar as global production of natural gas increases over the next few decades. The Energy Department projects that gas production could rise nearly 50 percent over the next 20 years as companies race to discover and tap new sources. In the United States, 4,000 miles of new pipeline was laid last year alone.” [8].

This higher estimate of 3T (3 trillion) cubic feet leakage /137.125 T cubic feet production = 2.2% leakage corresponds to 0.022 x 199,778 Mt CO2-e = 4,395 Mt CO2-e or about 10.5% of the lower estimate of annual GHG pollution (41,775 Mt CO2-e) and 6.9% of the higher World Bank estimate (63,803 Mt CO2-e).

By way of further comparison, the 2007 global fossil-fuel carbon emission was 8,365 Mt of carbon (Mt C; 8,365 x 44/12 = 8,365 x 3.67 = 30,700 Mt CO2-e), a 1.7% increase from 2006. Since 1751 about 337,000 Mt C (1,236,790 Mt CO2-e) has been released to the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels and cement production. In 2007 CO2 production was 1551 Mt C (natural gas burning; 5,692 Mt CO2-e), 6,814 Mt C (oil and coal burning; 25,007 Mt CO2-e) and 337 Mt C (cement manufacture; 1,237 Mt CO2-e). [9].

From the above data we can see that the upper estimate of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution from leakage of methane (4,395 Mt CO2-e annually ) is 77.2% of that from natural gas burning, 17.6% of that from coal and oil burning and about 14.3% of that from fossil fuel burning.

What is the US Natural Gas Lobby saying?

America’s Natural Gas Alliance states the case about what it falsely describes as “clean” natural gas: “North America has a vast domestic supply of clean natural gas that is so vast it can literally power our nation for generations. This clean, made-in-America energy source supports 2.8 million jobs in communities across our nation. And, it offers an abundant, clean energy solution for power generation and transportations. It is now the established, scientific consensus that our nation has more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil. It is time we put this clean, made-in-America energy source to greater use for our nation’s economy, environment and security. Natural gas is the natural choice—right now—to power our nation’s clean energy future.” [10].

T. Boone Pickens, Texas billionaire investor in oil and gas and a major lobbyist for expansion of US use of natural gas, also falsely describes natural gas as “clean” in this assertion (2009): “Show me another country where they import 70 percent of their oil and over half comes from their enemy…This is the largest transfer of wealth in human history…Natural gas is clean, it’s cheap and it’s ours.” [11].

The American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. whose mission is clean energy and environmental education, issued a statement in conjunction with the introduction of the historic, bipartisan NAT GAS Act of 2009 in the Senate by U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) (a companion House bill was introduced in April 2009 by Congressmen John Larson (D-Conn.), Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and John Sullivan (R-Okla.). Unfortunately ACSF also made the false assertion that “natural gas is clean” : “The introduction of the NAT GAS Act today in the Senate represents one more major step toward putting one of our most valued natural resources in our country to greater use. The Act proposes that vehicles, especially heavy, medium, and light-duty trucks and buses, run on natural gas. Natural gas is clean, American and affordable and multiple recent ground-breaking studies have confirmed we have abundant reserves in the United States to power our economy for decades to come. This legislation lays the groundwork to begin reducing our troublesome dependence on foreign oil and puts America on track towards a more promising energy future. No energy source can do more for America’s environment and economy in the immediate future than natural gas.” [12].

Unfortunately President Obama has similarly praised and promoted natural gas as evidenced by the quotations below.

President Barack Obama advocating accelerated natural gas production, the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline and offshore oil and gas drilling (August 2008): “I also believe that in the short-term, as we transition to renewable energy, we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas. But we should start by telling the oil companies to drill on the 68 million acres they currently have access to but haven’t touched. And if they don’t, we should require them to give up their leases to someone who will. We should invest in the technology that can help us recover more from existing oil fields, and speed up the process of recovering oil and gas resources in shale formations in Montana and North Dakota; Texas and Arkansas and in parts of the West and Central Gulf of Mexico. We should sell 70 million barrels of oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve for less expensive crude, which in the past has lowered gas prices within two weeks. Over the next five years, we should also lease more of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska for oil and gas production. And we should also tap more of our substantial natural gas reserves and work with the Canadian government to finally build the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline, delivering clean natural gas and creating good jobs in the process.” [13].

President Barack Obama advocating accelerated natural gas production and that “to fully embrace a clean energy economy… means tapping into our natural gas reserves” (June 2010) “Now, I understand that we can’t end our dependence on fossil fuels overnight. That’s why I supported a careful plan of offshore oil production as one part of our overall energy strategy. But we can pursue such production only if it’s safe, and only if it’s used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy. And the time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future. (Applause.) Now, that means continuing our unprecedented effort to make everything from our homes and businesses to our cars and trucks more energy-efficient. It means tapping into our natural gas reserves, and moving ahead with our plan to expand our nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants. It means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development. But the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future — if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.” [14].

President Obama on the Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) American Power Act that contains an ETS, expands onshore and offshore gas drilling and increases natural gas use in transportation (June 2010): “I applaud Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman for their tireless work in drafting this important legislation. This legislation will put America on the path to a clean energy economy that will create American jobs building the solar panels, wind blades and the car batteries of the future. It will strengthen our national security by beginning to break our dependence on foreign oil. And it will protect our environment for our children and grandchildren. Americans know what’s at stake by continuing our dependence on fossil fuels. But the challenges we face — underscored by the immense tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico — are reason to redouble our efforts to reform our nation’s energy policies. For too long, Washington has kicked this challenge to the next generation. This time, the status quo is no longer acceptable to Americans. Now is the time for America to take control of our energy future and jumpstart American innovation in clean energy technology that will allow us to create jobs, compete, and win in the global economy. The House of Representatives has already taken historic action with passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. I look forward to engaging with Senators from both sides of the aisle and ultimately passing a bill this year.” [15].

However President Obama gets excellent scientific advice from Professors Chu and Holdren and he knows that natural gas is a dirty, polluting fossil fuel that is an enormously potent greenhouse gas and that generates CO2 on combustion. Faced with the horrendous reality of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster with up to 100,000 barrels of oil spewing into the ocean each day together with enormous quantities of natural gas, Obama has temporarily suspended the oil and gas ocean drilling that he formerly espoused and indeed permitted.

A recent news report sounds the alarm about methane from the Gulf oil spill disaster: “According to John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the BP oil spill, the crude oil emanating from the seafloor [up to 100,000 barrels oil equivalent per day = 0.013 million tonnes oil equivalent] contains about 40% methane compared to about 5% found in typical crude oil deposits. The risk is great, as marine life will be suffocated as a result of the increased methane levels. The Gulf of Mexico will eventually have "dead zones" to deal with where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives. This is significant and can forever alter the water/life composition. "This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history," Kessler said.” [16].

The amount of methane released over the 60 days since the initial blow-out (20 April 2010) can be estimated at 0.4 x (0.013 million t methane /day) x 60 days = 0.312 Mt CH4 = 0.312 x 72 Mt CO2-e = 22.5 Mt CO2-e.

Australian novelist Peter Carey recently observed that the really important news is the news that is not reported. Ditto, "The holes in history are what makes sense of the thing" (Aarons and Loftus, "The Secret War Against the Jews", p12) – and this is well exampled by Obama on natural gas in his recent speech on the Gulf oil disaster from the Oval Office. [17].

Missing from Obama’s Gulf oil-and-gas disaster speech was one key word: gas. Read through his speech and you will find that he used the following words in descending order of occurrence: oil (24 times), energy (14), drilling/drill (8), clean energy (6), environmental (4), God/He (4), Al Qaeda (1), recession (1), gas (0).

Yet lobbyist-beholden Obama has outrageously lumped planet-threatening natural gas under "clean energy"; permitted a massive expansion of offshore gas and oil drilling; and supported the Alaska Gas Pipeline, massive expansion of on-shore gas drilling and a major oil-to-gas shift for transportation.

There is no point spending billions of dollars replacing coal with natural gas and locking us into something essentially as bad as coal for decades more. Top climate scientists say that we must urgently reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from the current damaging 390 parts per million (ppm) to a safe and sustainable 300 ppm for a safe and sustainable planet for all peoples and all species. [18].

Both Dr James Lovelock FRS (Gaia hypothesis) and Professor Kevin Anderson ( Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, UK) have recently estimated that fewer than 1 billion people will survive this century due to unaddressed, man-made global warming – noting that the world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, these estimates translate to a climate genocide involving deaths of 10 billion people this century, this including 6 billion under-5 year old infants, 3 billion Muslims in a terminal Muslim Holocaust, 2 billion Indians, 1.3 billion non-Arab Africans, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis. [19].

Please inform everyone you can.

[1]. US Energy Information Administration (US EIA), Natural Gas International Energy Statistics: http://www.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/ipdbp... ).

[2]. US Energy Information Administration (US EIA), Natural Gas: http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/natu... .

[3]. Kevin Bullis, “Natural gas may be worse for the planet than coal”, Technology Review (MIT), 16 April 2010: http://www.technologyreview.com/blo... .

[4]. Robert Howarth, “Preliminary assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing”, Cornell University, 1 April 2010: http://www.technologyreview.com/blo... .

[5]. Zero Emissions Network, “Agriculture and climate change”: http://www.zeroemissionnetwork.org/... .

[6]. Carbon dioxide equivalent, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon... .

[7]. Robert Goodland and Jeff Anfang. “Livestock and climate change. What if the key actors in climate change are … cows, pigs ands chickens?”, World Watch, November/December 2009: http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf... .

[8]. Andrew Revkin, Clifford Krauss, “Curbing emissions by sealing gas leaks”, New York Times, 14 October 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/15/b... .

[9]. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC): “Global fossil fuel CO2 emissions”: http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/t... .

[10]. America’s Natural Gas Alliance, “Why natural gas?”: http://www.anga.us/why-natural-gas/ .

[11]. T. Boone Pickens, quoted by Kambiz Foroohar, “Pickens Power Makes Al Gore Convenient Truth in U.S. Oil Policy”, Bloomberg.com, 7 October 2009: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?... .

[12]. ACSF release statement on NAT GAS Act of 2009, Clean Skies, 2009: http://webcache.googleusercontent.c... .

[13]. Barack Obama, “Obama’s speech on the energy crisis”, Council on Foreign Relations, 4 August 2008: http://www.cfr.org/publication/1689... .

[14]. President Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy at Carnegie Mellon University”, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The White House, 2 June 2010: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press... .

[15]. Statement by President Obama on the American Power Act, White House, 12 May 2010: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press... .

[16]. Todd Schoenberger, “Methane gas concerns arose from Gulf oil spill”, Taipan’s Tipping Point Alert, 18 June 2010: http://www.taipanpublishinggroup.co... .

[17]. Remarks by the President to the Nation on the BP Oil Spill, Oval Office, White House,15 June 2010: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press... .

[18]. “300.org: return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm”, 300.org: http://sites.google.com/site/300org... .

[19]. Climate Genocide: http://sites.google.com/site/climat... .

Forum posts

  • The upper estimate of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution from global leakage of industrial methane (4,395 Mt CO2-e annually ) is 77.2% of that from natural gas burning (see above).

    Accordingly society burning 1 tonne of natural gas (methane) is actually associated with emission of 2.8 tonnes CO2 (from burning) plus a further 0.772 x 2.8 = 2.2 tonnes of CO2-e (from methane leakage) for a total of 4.0 tonnes CO2-e (CO2 equivalent) as compared to 3.7 tonnes CO2 from burning 1 tonne of black coal.

    If we assume that on an energy yield basis natural gas yields 0.5 tonne CO2 as compared to 1.0 tonne for black coal to produce the same energy then we find that factoring in the effect of methane leakage (and ignoring methane leakage from coal mines) this becomes 0.9 tonnes CO2-e from methane (0.5 tonne CO2 from methane burning plus 0.772 x 0.5 = 0.4 tonne CO2-e from methane leakage) versus 1.0 tonne CO2 from black coal burning in producing the same amount of electricity.

    • Methane (CH4) has a molecular weight of 16 and carbon dioxide (CO2) has a molecular weight of 44.

      When you burn CH4 you get CO2: CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2 H2O.

      Accordingly burning 16 tonnes of CH4 yields 44 tonnes of CO2 and burning 100 tonnes of CH4 yields 100x 44/16 = 275 tonnes of CO2.

      However if there is industrial leakage of CH4 (estimated to be at least 2.2% by the US EPA) then one must consider the greenhouse gas effect of the released methane (72 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas on a 20 year time scale).

      Of our 100 tonnes of CH4, how much CH4 leakage (y tonnes) gives the same greenhouse effect (in CO2 equivalents or CO2-e) as burning the remaining CH4?

      y tonnes CH4 x (72 tonnes CO2-e/tonne CH4) = (100-y) tonnes CH4 x (2.75 tonnes CO2-e/ tonne CH4).

      72y tonnes CO2-e = (100-y) 2.75 tonnes CO2-e

      72y = 275 – 2.75y

      74.75y = 275

      y = 275/74.75 = 3.68 i.e. a 3.7% leakage of CH4 yields that same greenhouse effect as burning the remaining CH4.


      3.68 tonnes leaked CH4 corresponds to 3.68 tonnes CH4 x 72 tonnes CO2-e/ tonne CH4 = 265 tonnes CO2-e .
      Burning the remaining 96.32 tonnes of CH4 corresponds to 96.32 tonnes CH4 x 2.75 tonnes CO2/tonne CH4 = 265 tonnes CO2.

  • If you check the New York Times article cited as [8] above, you find that the the proper factor is not 72, but rather 25. That cuts the warming attributed to leaked natural gas by nearly 2/3, even before you apply Dr. Polya’s correction.

    More important is how to view the escaped gas. We should view it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

    Everyone agrees that as a fuel, natural gas is cleaner than others. If we sieze the opportunity to capture the escaping gas and use it for something, everybody wins: less warming, better fuel, less need to exploit other resources. If we instead say gas is bad, and try to eliminate its use, we have to make up the difference with something else.

    The companies that are losing the gas have a strong incentive to capture it and sell it (which was the point of the NY Times article). This is a problem that holds its own solution.

    • Methane is 72 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time scale but 25 times worse on a 100 year scale. The World has only the next decade or so to act to prevent massive damage from man-made climate change and hence the 20 year time scale is the appropriate time frame for the GHG calculations.

  • You don’t have to worry about the effect natural gas has on global warming, we’ll all be poisoned to death before global warming get us. This all comes from their new natural gas drilling technique called, fracturing. To get the natural gas out of the shale rock, they pump a toxic stew of about 500 chemicals and water into the ground under high pressure. This process has already poisoned aquifers and land in several states, sending gas and chemicals right into people’s water. They can actually light their water on fire from the tap. Then after they’re done drilling, they take the chemical waste water that’s also mixed with naturally occurring radioactive elements found in the ground, and dump it into rivers and streams all across the country that supply drinking water to millions of people. This will be the biggest environmental disaster known to man. You can read all about it in this 5 page NY Times report. www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1