Methane – It’s Only Natural, Right?

March 20, 2023

Inside Climate News:

Natural gas has long been subject to a war of words. Once it was a “bridge fuel” that would straddle the gap from fossil energy to renewable sources. More recently, climate activists have sought to highlight that gas pollutes, too, by stripping “natural” from its name and calling it fossil- or methane gas.

The industry is pushing back, and gas executives displayed their latest linguistic counteroffensive at an industry conference this month in Houston.

“It’s time for us to stop tiptoeing about the value of natural gas,” said Octávio Simões, chief executive of Tellurian, which is struggling to financeits multi-billion dollar plan to export liquified natural gas, or LNG. “It’s time for us to say it is an incredible fuel, and we’re not afraid to burn it in our kitchens,” he added, drawing cheers from the otherwise subdued crowd.

Gas’s fortunes have fallen over the last decade as emerging science revealed that its production and transport releases large volumes of methane, the fuel’s primary component and a potent greenhouse gas. 

Some estimates indicate these leaks have wiped away much or even most of the gains the United States appeared to make in cutting climate pollution by replacing coal with gas as a fuel for power plants. 

When burned, gas releases about half as much carbon dioxide as coal, but methane traps about 85 times more heat than CO2 over a 20-year period. Other science has shown that gas stoves emit harmful chemicals that can collect in people’s homes.

“We lost the narrative on the value of natural gas,” Simões said during the panel, held in a windowless hotel ballroom with soaring ceilings and seating for hundreds that was only about half-full.

Inside Climate News again:

Toby Rice, who leads EQT, the country’s largest gas producer, was sitting next to Simões and has been at the forefront of an effort to win back that narrative. During the panel, Rice called his company’s product the “cleanest energy in the world,” despite the fact that gas emits 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Fossil fuel executives were broadcasting the same message as Rice and Simões throughout the conference, CERAWeek by S&P Global, one of the energy industry’s largest annual gatherings. 

Ryan Lance, chief executive of ConocoPhillips, said in a separate panel that “the whole taxonomy around gas is changing” as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent energy prices soaring and European countries scrambling for new sources of fuel. “Gas is something that’s going to be more than just a bridge fuel,” Lance said. “It’s going to be around for a long time.”

Environmental groups and many scientists have warned that this outcome would be a disaster for the climate. 

“Neither fossil gas nor liquefied natural gas (LNG) is clean, nor are they particularly low” in climate pollution, the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a report last year. The report argued that a planned LNG export expansion threatened to place global climate goals out of reach, and that the Biden administration should instead support development of wind and solar energy, which are increasingly cost-competitive with gas, as a replacement for coal overseas.

CERAWeek draws government officials, too, and one day, executives with the American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other fossil fuel industry groups met with representatives of G7 nations to press the “unique and vital role of natural gas in meeting shared energy security and climate objectives.” 

During the meeting, the executives urged the G7 nations to “affirm the crucial contributions of natural gas” when they hold their annual summit in May, according to an open letter from the industry groups. 

Fossil fuel companies have been gearing up for this battle for years. Among those who cheered Simões’ defense of gas was former Sen. Mary Landrieu, who was sitting toward the back of the room with former Rep. Tim Ryan. The two Democrats have been hired by a group called Natural Allies for a Clean Energy Future, launched by EQT and several other gas companies and labor unions to promote the fuel to Democrats.


One Response to “Methane – It’s Only Natural, Right?”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    “When burned, gas releases about half as much carbon dioxide as coal….”

    This isolated factoid is how they pretend it is more climate-friendly, when one of the many problems of natgas is how much gets released uncombusted into the atmosphere as part of drilling, transport and processing.

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