Energy Vision President Joanna D. Underwood (left) at the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday.
By Joanna D. Underwood
Amid clamor for bolder action on climate change, there’s dispute over the U.S. strategy of boosting production and dependence on natural gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future.
2013 was a record year for global CO2 emissions, and included a 2.9 percent rise in U.S. CO2 emissions after several years of decline. Burning natural gas to generate power releases only half the CO2 of burning coal, and when it is used as a vehicle fuel, it’s 20 to 25 percent better in terms of overall greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or diesel.
But it is, after all, still a fossil fuel. It consists mostly of methane, an unregulated heat-trapping gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Methane leakage from well sites and pipelines has become a hot topic. U.S. environmental groups are demanding the EPA regulate it, and it’s an issue at the United Nations Climate Summit taking place in New York this week.
Renewable energy advocates point out that the money spent on natural gas development preempts renewables spending, and there’s a limit to how much methane leakage and emissions regulation can be controlled and how much natural gas emissions can be improved. It’s understandable why, for many, swapping natural gas for oil and mitigating carbon dioxide emissions with methane seems like incremental punting — not a robust solution to climate change.
But natural gas critics and boosters alike are missing something important: the advent of a fuel called renewable natural gas (RNG), which is chemically similar to fossil natural gas, but better. It is produced not by drilling or hydrofracking fossilized deposits, but by capturing biogases wherever organic wastes decompose: in landfills, wastewater treatment plants, etc. The stream of organic waste is massive, but until recently, we’ve largely ignored it as a source of energy and emissions savings. Click to continue reading »
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