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Clearing the Air on Liquid Natural Gas

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday May 12th, 2008 | 17 Comments

Shell_logo.svg.jpgEvery month when I see the magazine Seed in my mailbox I can’t wait to sit down and read it. This month I found a DVD inside the magazine with the oil company Shell’s short movie, Clearing the Air on it. My attention peaked, and I watched the movie.
Clearing the Air is a fictional account of the development of gas to liquid (GTL) or liquid natural gas (LNG). The
California Energy Commission defines LNG as “fuels that can be produced from natural gas, coal, and biomass using a Fischer-Tropsch chemical reaction process.” However, in the movie LNG is used to refer to converting natural gas into liquid for fuel.


It is mentioned, at the end of the movie, that trials were conducted in four cities around the globe, and claimed that “Sooty emissions from cars fell by forty percent.” According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “GTL diesel fuels have been shown to reduce regulated exhaust emissions from a variety of diesel engines and vehicles. Additionally, the near zero sulfur content of these fuels can enable advanced emission control devices.”
“These products have the benefit of being deliverable through our existing fuel distribution infrastructure,” the National Energy Technology Laboratory believes.
Is LNG really a clean fuel? The non-profit organization Public Citizen says, “LNG can pose significant security and environmental hazards.” Chevron, however, claims LNG meets “the most stringent environmental requirements.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune ran an article about an LNG plant being constructed in Mexico 50 miles from the U.S. border. The article stated, “Sempra’s gas will bring hundreds of tons of additional air pollution to a region already struggling to improve some of the worst air in the United States.” San Diego officials estimate that the Sempra plant will produce “more than three times the nitrous-oxide pollution that is created by the San Diego Gas & Electric Co.-owned power plant in Escondido, currently the largest single source of these emissions in the county.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) believes that using natural gas as a transportation fuel results in less pollution when “compared to conventional diesel and gasoline.” UCS expressed concerns that using natural gas as a transportation fuel requires “infrastructure investments.”
The Australian website Chemlink.com thinks LNG is “capable of producing products that could be sold or blended into refinery stock as superior products with less pollutants for which there is growing demand.”
Environmental organizations are not in favor of LNG as a transportation fuel. Energy Justice Network believes it has “its own serious environmental hazards” because “natural gas extraction threatens ecosystems.” The environmental group points out that natural gas “is expected to peak globally around 2020, leading to serious global conflicts as China and other large and growing economies continue down the path of increased dependence on fossil fuels.”
According to Greenpeace’s report, Liquid Natural Gas: A Roadblock, the “an increased dependence on LNG is frightening because it increases reliance on environmentally destructive fossil fuels and significantly delays the possibility of moving towards renewable energy sources by creating a costly infrastructure for LNG.” The report points out that the processes to convert and transport LNG are “energy intensive.” Emissions from natural gas “are identical whether it has been converted to LNG or burned straight from gas.”


▼▼▼      17 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Rod

    This article makes a significant error. LNG–liquified natural gas–is not the same as GTL–gas to liquid.
    LNG is refrigerated and compressed natural gas. It is the form of natural gas that is transported by ship to terminals, where is is then allowed to warm and expand into natural gas that is moved by pipeline.
    GTL is the chemical approach (such as the Fischer-Tropsch reaction) for converting natural gas (mainly methane) or similar gases (such as from coal gasification) into into longer molecules that are liquid at ambient temperature. This liquid can be used as a clean-burning diesel fuel and is the subject of the Shell video.
    To make things a bit more confusing, there is also something called LPG, liquefied petroleum gas, which is produced along with oil and natural gas and in petroleum refining. This is the propane (though butane and other molecules may be present) that some people use to heat their homes and run their gas grills.

  • http://sustainableresearch.blogspot.com/ Costa

    We posted on research on the life cycle impacts of LNG here. Short answer: LNG= more GHGs than regular NG. And maybe as much as coal.

  • Mike

    I agree with Rod. The author is basically clueless.

  • Robt Mann Ph.D

    This piece is a mess of disinformation.
    The term ‘LNG’ means – and means only – liquified natural gas. The other verbiage about “fuels that can be produced from … coal, and biomass using a Fischer-Tropsch chemical reaction” is a fog of deception produced by PR agents.
    Natural gas is cooled to -161 ¬∞C to liquify it. The resulting LNG is many hundreds of times denser than the gas it was cooled from. Ocean-going tankers carry LNG in huge ‘thermos flasks’ – several per ship. If just one of these fragile tanks is ruptured by collision or sabotage, under some weather conditions the gas cloud released will still be flammable 100 km downwind. James A. Fay, professor of mechanical engineering at M.I.T, published a definitive paper in Combustion Sci. Tech. proving this conclusion, by an explicit mathematical model. On the other hand, ‘Science Applications Inc’ produced for a corporation proposing a Calif coast LNG depot a hazard radius of only a few km. – using a ‘proprietary’ secret model. It is not difficult to decide which to believe.
    The nation of Qatar was practiaclly crippled for some years by a major mishap at an LNG depot.
    ‘Environment’ magazine had a good article 3 decades ago on LNG by UCS associate James MacKenzie. The book ‘Frozen Fire’ around the same time was another good source. I hope UCS does not again launder disinformation about this dangerous, unnecessary technology. Like nuclear power, it poses a ‘zero-infinity dilemma’ – it creates the potential for mishaps whose probability may approach zero but (if the unlikely mishap occurs) can do harm approaching, in a slang expression, infinity.

  • Robt Mann Ph.D

    This piece is a mess of disinformation.
    The term ‘LNG’ means – and means only – liquified natural gas. The other verbiage about “fuels that can be produced from … coal, and biomass using a Fischer-Tropsch chemical reaction” is a fog of deception produced by PR agents.
    Natural gas is cooled to -161 ¬∞C to liquify it. The resulting LNG is many hundreds of times denser than the gas it was cooled from. Ocean-going tankers carry LNG in huge ‘thermos flasks’ – several per ship. If just one of these fragile tanks is ruptured by collision or sabotage, under some weather conditions the gas cloud released will still be flammable 100 km downwind. James A. Fay, professor of mechanical engineering at M.I.T, published a definitive paper in Combustion Sci. Tech. proving this conclusion, by an explicit mathematical model. On the other hand, ‘Science Applications Inc’ produced for a corporation proposing a Calif coast LNG depot a hazard radius of only a few km. – using a ‘proprietary’ secret model. It is not difficult to decide which to believe.
    The nation of Qatar was practiaclly crippled for some years by a major mishap at an LNG depot.
    ‘Environment’ magazine had a good article 3 decades ago on LNG by UCS associate James MacKenzie. The book ‘Frozen Fire’ around the same time was another good source. I hope UCS does not again launder disinformation about this dangerous, unnecessary technology. Like nuclear power, it poses a ‘zero-infinity dilemma’ – it creates the potential for mishaps whose probability may approach zero but (if the unlikely mishap occurs) can do harm approaching, in a slang expression, infinity.

  • yasha husain

    Another book to check out is High Noon for Natural Gas by Julian Darley. According to the author, LNG (natural gas made liquid so it can travel via double hulled ships from one expensive terminal to another)involves a costly and insecure infrastructure (it could explode or be exploded), in addition to it being energy-intensive. To import the gas is quite different from using domestic resources.

  • John McNary

    This article is not only inaccurately framed at the start, but ignores the major issues:
    (1) The process of extracting methane, compressing it 600 times, shipping it across the globe and regasifying it, adds significantly to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, making it as dirty as coal.
    (2) Natural gas is an industrial byproduct of the worldwide oil industry. By inducing reliance on another “plentiful” source of petroleum from overseas, we are making the United States further reliant on petroleum imports from suppliers like Russia, Iran and other unfriendly states. Even imports from “friends” like Indonesia, Nigeria or Australia strengthens the geopolitical hand of our enemies.
    (3) Bringing LNG into America will mean that our electricity bills will become irrevocably linked to the world price of oil. If you can find a way make a profit on $4 a gallon gas, or the prospect of $200 a barrel oil, like the members of the Center for LNG (a division of the American Petroleum Institute) can, you will just love LNG.
    (4) LNG from other nations has higher concentrations of other petroleum gases, and burns hotter. This is not a big deal in Japan, where hot water heaters and electrical generators are designed to burn the “hot gas”. But in North America, the “hot gas” will cause massive pollution and wastes of energy, much like putting 100 octane racing fuel in a car that can run perfectly well on 87 octane.
    (5) The congressional research office says that the safety of largescale LNG transport ships and regasification facilities is a guessing game, and that no tests have ever been made on large-scale “pool spills” that would follow an accidental or terrorist breach. In fact, the Sandia National labroatory has relied on 30-year-old movies of a very-small LNG fire on a pond in China Lake, CA, for its data on how very-large spills of cryogenic slush will regasify. Sandia declared LNG ships “safe” based on simply mulitplying the effect by a million or so and assuming a big uncontrolled spill and fire would behave the same way as a little controlled test.
    (6) The Bush-Cheney oil policy has stripped local governments of any regulation of LNG terminal or gas pipelines, and adopted a “market-based” policy in which any Texas oil company can propose to come into any town, buy off a few local officials, and condemn property for their facilities. FERC does not have to do a needs assessment, or determine which project is better for the environment or safer.

  • Anonymous

    Please see my addendum to this article:
    http://www.triplepundit.com/pages/update-on-clearing-the-air-abo-003114.php
    Gina-Marie Cheeseman

  • regeya

    Natural gas is indeed a petroleum product–but it’s also largely methane, which is about the most common biogas in use. Yes, biogas. Anaerobic bacteria can give the stuff off, and can be used much like ground-based NG, because that’s what it is–’natural gas.’

  • Gina-Marie Cheeseman

    Ah methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. A ‘natural gas,’ yes. Do you know why methane is so plentiful? The majority of methane comes from the digestive tracts of livestock, and animal agriculture has more than doubled since 1961.
    For more information about methane and global warming, please see the following article:
    Hold Meat, Help the Environment

  • Anonymous

    T Boone Pickens (the oil guy) is investing $10 – $12 billion in 4,000 megawatts of wind poower he inteds to sell @ $.10 – $.12 cost per Kilowatt Hour (before transmission cost). He strongly advocates that this and other renewable grid power be used to retire natural gas electricity generation and that the natural gas be used in transportation which is easily done with existing internal combustion technology. Cars such as Honda Civic GX emit almost no other pollutants other than CO2, and for that matter eliminate other pollutants during combustion. This includes NOx which is 296 times more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and often over looked both in current gasoline / hybrid and diesel discussions. This plan can use existing infrastructure for distribution and reduce total greenhouse emissions. Equivalent BTU of cost natural gas is currently ¬Ω gasoline or diesel, currently would translate to $1.00 a gallon (lower transportation cost and no road taxes). Significantly less energy (greenhouse gas) is used in its production and distribution than oil based fuels.

  • Clean_Burning

    Natural Gas is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to conventional fuels (gasoline, diesel). The main reason: natural gas burns with very low emissions. When compared to diesel, the California Energy Commission found that Natural Gas produced up to 23% lower emissions, it reduces Nox by 50% and Particulate Matter by 70%.
    That “oil guy,” T. Boone Pickens is also the founder of “Clean Energy,” the largest provider of vehicular natural gas (CNG and LNG) in North America with state-of-the-art fueling stations strategically located throughout its markets.
    According to Clean Energy’s website, “LNG is 600 times denser than natural gas, making it easily transportable and highly efficient as a fuel for heavy-duty, long-distance fleets, such as those serving major ports around the country…”
    Also, natural gas is more than ” an industrial byproduct of the worldwide oil industry.” Many experts agree that Natural Gas is the practical bridge to energy independence and sustainability. In fact, 98% of it is in North America and according to the Natural Gas Supply Association, reserves point to at least a 60-year supply.
    All alternative fuels have their drawbacks. However, in all the categories that matter i.e. (price, emission reduction, and viability,) Natural Gas comes out ahead each and every time. It’s cleaner, it’s cheaper, and there’s enough to go around.

  • Anonymous

    Natural gas is burned (CO2 & other pollutants) to heat up massive amounts dirt to separate bitumen out, in Canada this consumes water and creates huge toxic tailings. Then more natural gas is used to upgrade it into synfuel. Then more energy is used to in the refine it. In essence a multiplier effect on the CO2 for the gasoline burned in a hybrid car. This makes about as much sense as using natural gas to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer to grow corn. Nitrogen pollution soluble in ground water and runoff and NOx in the atmosphere. Then burning more natural gas to distil it into ethanol. If the natural gas cost becomes linked to petroleum on a BTU basis then we can stop this madness. It is not a matter of using natural gas in transportation; it is already feed stock, just the most efficient least polluting way.

  • Shannon Arvizu

    Another important distinction: CNG (compressed natural gas) is the cleaner of all the natural gas alternatives. When one speaks of the environmental benefits of natural gas, they are usually referring to CNG (not GTL or LNG).

  • Gina-Marie Cheeseman

    I enjoy reading all of the comments. I would like to point out, however, that natural gas is not an unlimited fuel source. It is a fossil fuel. It is NOT renewable. We must move away from fossil fuels if we are going to combat global warming.

  • bobbi

    I am doing a research paper on liquifying natural gas in the midst of the gas crisis and need several different types of referencing material. Do you have any suggestion

  • Anonymous

    ROD KNOWS WHATS UP.