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A new study shows there are more fugitive methane leaks in the natural gas supply system than previously acknowledged. This means natural gas could be worse for the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than coal. Leakage rates of 9% were recently reported in Utah.

http://www.nature.com/news/methane-leaks-erode-green-credent...

"We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see," says Colm Sweeney, who led the aerial component of the study as head of the aircraft programme at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder.
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- Pete
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Great...that means with a little fixing, the natural gas supply will go up by 9%.

That's a win-win situation.

t.
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And this assumes that you only care about one issue, AGW. If you care about mercury and other air pollution, mining deaths, lung disease... NG is still much cleaner.

Mike
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The only way it will happen though, is if a great big cost is associated with those emissions. You KNOW that.
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Great...that means with a little fixing, the natural gas supply will go up by 9%.
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Only if it is worth it to the drillers and suppliers to fix the leaks. With natural gas selling for just over $3 per MMBTU, it may only be worth it to fix the really big leaks. In other words, why spend $1000 on maintenance fixing a leak when you are only saving $100 worth of product? It all comes down to a cost/benefit calculation.

If this leakage of 9% is real, then the proponents of renewable energy need to reexamine the concept of intermittent and unreliable wind and solar power being backed up with "clean" natural gas. They are just kidding themselves if they think they are reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Methane is 72 times more effective at trapping in heat than CO2.

Let's say we wanted to replace all of the coal-fired electricity generators in the US with natural gas. Coal power generated about 1.5 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2012. At a average thermal efficiency of 33%, and an emission factor of 95 kg of CO2 per MMBTU, the coal-fired plants produced about 1.49 billion tons of CO2 last year.

To replace that coal generation with more efficient natural gas, you will need about 12 trillion cubic feet of gas. If 9% of the gas is lost along the production path, that is 24.3 million tonnes of gas. But since methane is 72 times worse than CO2, that is really 1750 million tons of CO2-equivalent.

But wait, you haven't burned the other 91% of the gas yet to generate power. Burning that gas in more efficient power plants will produce about 650 million tonnes of CO2. So all in all, the conversion to gas will produce 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year. Burning coal only produced 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2!

You had better hope that this AGW problem isn't as bad as predicted. If the fugitive methane losses are has high as this study indicates, the conversion from coal to gas is actually making the problem worse.

Uranium, anyone?

- Pete
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