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Huge US natural gas leakage means STOP gas rush, gas boom, gas-fired power plants & global Gasland

by Open-Publishing - Wednesday 5 January 2011

Energy USA Gideon Polya

Because natural gas-fired power plants emit half the CO2 and much lower levels of other pollutants per unit energy produced as coal-fired plants there is a big push for a coal to gas transition. However methane (CH4; the major constituent of natural gas) leaks and is 72 times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2) as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20 year time scale.

It can be readily calculated that a 3.7% leakage of CH4 yields that same GHG effect as burning the remaining 96.7% of the CH4 (see Gideon Polya, “Gulf oil & gas disaster, lobbyists, Obama & huge threat of natural gas (methane) to Humanity & Biosphere”, Bellaciao, 19 June 2010: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?ar... ). Thus if gas-fired power plants have half the CO2 pollution of coal-fired plants then a 3.7% gas leakage would mean that gas-fired plants would be about as a dirty GHG-wise as coal-fired plants i.e. a coal to gas transition would be a wasted investment from a GHG perspective.

The US EPA has recently re-assessed the percentage (%) of natural gas (mostly methane) that leaks industrially. According to David Lewis in an article entitled “EPA confirms natural gas leakage rates” (The Energy Collective, 7 December 2010: http://www.theenergycollective.com/... ) this means that : “3.25 % of US natural gas production leaks into the atmosphere as methane gas. The industry has been saying the leaks are tiny, less than a fraction of 1%.”

We know that natural gas is not “clean energy” because gas-fired power plants generate the GHG CO2 and are variously associated with other deleterious pollutants including carbon particulates, sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), carcinogenic aromatics, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatics, variously toxic fat-soluble organometallics, and nitrogen oxides including nitrous oxide (N2O), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO) (collectively termed NOx) that are variously deleterious to human health, plant growth and the environment (see Gideon Polya, “A detailed resource to stop the Gas Boom, Gas Rush, Gasland obscenity devastating Australia and America”, Bellaciao, 27 December 2010: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?ar... ).

This latest data on industrial gas leakage means that natural gas burning is about as dirty GHG-wise as coal burning. New gas- and coal-fired power plants should not be built. Indeed a country like Australia can have 100% renewable energy by 2020 using existing technologies (see Beyond Zero Emissions Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, ZCA2020: http://www.beyondzeroemissions.org/... ).

We need to keep all fossil fuels in the ground and to eliminate other GHG sources (notably CH4 from livestock production that may represent over 51% of total annual GHG pollution according to World Bank analysts 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... ).

Even zero emissions is not enough – top scientists (including the world’s top coral experts) say that we must return the atmospheric CO2 concentration from the present dangerous 392 parts per million (ppm) to a level of about 300 ppm for a safe planet for all peoples and all species (see 300.org: https://sites.google.com/site/300or... ).

High natural gas leakage means we must stop the gas boom, the gas rush and the global worsening of the scenario exposed in the movie Gasland in which US drinking water is being horribly contaminated through industrial "fracking" (deep underground rock fracturing to release natural gas) (see “Gasland”: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1558250/ ).

As deadly accurate and ever-contemporary satirist Tom Lehrer sang half a century ago in his song “Pollution” (see: http://www.lyricstime.com/tom-lehre... ):

“So go to the city, see the crazy people there.

Like lambs to the slaughter,

They’re drinking the water

And breathing [cough] the air. ”