There is no doubt that natural gas transformed the U.S. energy landscape in the last decade. Production hit a record high again last year. Natural gas replaced coal as the top source of energy for electricity generation.
All the while, the industry decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by 12% compared with 1990 levels. Does that make it a clean energy source? Congressman Troy Balderson, of Zanesville, Ohio, and others in the fossil fuels industry think so.
Balderson, R-12, introduced a resolution last week to the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize American natural gas as a clean and green energy source.
“I support the all above approach to meeting our energy needs, but renewables are not yet ready for primetime,” Balderson said. “We must reject the false notion that a cleaner environment can only be achieved at the peril of the United States energy security and its independence. Natural gas is a key to our path to the American energy independence.”
He announced the resolution at a Knox Energy well pad in Licking County, Ohio on June 1, alongside energy industry officials, including those from the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, the Consumer Energy Alliance and Utica Energy Alliance.
The resolution is meant to lump natural gas in with other clean energy sources so that it gets the same preferential treatment Balderson feels the Biden administration is giving to renewable energy.
“This administration has made crystal clear that they are unwilling to work with anything that strays from the green agenda,” Balderson said. “So, let’s finally call it what it truly is. Natural gas is both clean and green.”
The resolution also encouraged the Biden administration to remove barriers to natural gas production. The resolution was referred both to the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources committees.
During the press conference, several of the speakers highlighted the natural gas industry’s environmental advances, mostly the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas replacing other forms of electric generation.
“Thanks to the ingenuity of our members, the Appalachian Basin has become the third largest natural gas producing region in the world,” said Ohio Oil and Gas Association President Rob Brundrett, at the June 1 press conference. “What’s even more impressive is that even with the increase of gas production, Ohio is one of the leading states in reducing carbon emissions.”
In its recently released Community Impact/Sustainability Report, which also highlighted the industry’s volunteer efforts and charitable giving, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association found that Ohio produced 15 times more natural gas in 2018 than in 1990, while reducing CO2 emissions by 15% during that same time period.
Producers are also doing better at detecting and stopping methane leaks. Natural gas itself is primarily methane, or CH4, a potent but short-lived greenhouse gas that makes up about 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Natural gas systems account for about 25% of all methane emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
While natural gas is a relatively clean burning fossil fuel, the real issues come from all the steps before that. Methane can leak into the atmosphere when it is extracted, processed, stored, transported and distributed.
The OOGA report highlighted Ascent Resources’ efforts last year to reduce emissions by upgrading pneumatic devices. That and other projects helped Ascent reduce its emissions by 20% compared with 2020 levels, according to the report. Ascent was also one of several Appalachian Basin drillers that joined the effort to have its natural gas certified by a third party as “responsibly sourced,” which involves continuous on-site leak monitoring.
Balderson’s resolution noted that methane emissions had decreased “because of increased innovation and technology.” It also noted that using natural gas to generate energy “results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants, including carbon dioxide, compared to other fossil fuels.”
Though emissions have dropped, natural gas systems emitted 200.3 million metric tons CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gasses in 2020, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That includes extracting, processing, transmission and distributing the gas. That doesn’t include using natural gas being burned as a fuel for energy production, which emitted about 1,611 million metric tons CO2 Eq.
Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 5,222 million metric tons CO2 Eq.
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