New Analysis Reveals ‘Clean’ Natural Gas as ‘the New Coal’
Methane leaks from liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other parts of the gas production chain are making the supposedly “clean fuel” a climate pollutant on par with coal, with the vast majority of the new development taking place in Canada and the United States, CBC reports.
“Effectively, the report warns that rather than being an environment-friendly product that can help solve our climate problems, gas is the new coal,” writes business reporter Don Pittis, citing the latest analysis by Global Energy Monitor. In that light, the “explosion in spending on planned new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities” means that “the world may soon turn against gas in the same way it turned against its solid fuel relative.”
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“New studies have shown there is significantly more fugitive gas than studies showed five years ago, and the gas is also a bigger contributor to climate change than was understood,” said report co-author James Browning. Pittis attributes much of that shift to the rapid introduction of LNG.
“Until quite recently, for all practical purposes, gas was seen as a continental resource. In other words, whereas coal and oil were commonly moved by freighters and tankers all over the world, gas was limited to places where you could build a pipeline,” he writes.
“But the falling costs of LNG technology changed all that. Suddenly, it became feasible to compress the gas into a chilly liquid for shipping by specialized tankers anywhere in the world.” According to Global Energy Monitor, that shift in economics has triggered nearly $2 trillion in planned investment, with 202 LNG terminals in development worldwide—most of them in North America.
Those investors may be in for a shock, however.
“As well as documenting the expansion of LNG investment in Canada and around the world, the GEM report contains a warning to those who are investing that extends to banks lending the money for facilities based on the idea of an industry imagining a 300-year run,” Pittis writes. “For one thing, the latest expansion flies in the face of international agreements to reduce natural gas use,” with the projects now under way sufficient to triple consumption.
“And Browning says countries suffering from the effects of climate change will be looking for less costly alternatives, especially as it becomes better understood that fugitive methane from drilling and shipping can make gas as damaging as coal,” he adds. “Already, sun-drenched India, one of the countries likely to be worst hit by rising temperatures, is finding that in many cases solar energy is cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.”
Karen Tam Wu, British Columbia regional director at the Pembina Institute, said the province may be wasting money on its LNG development plans, noting that the 40- to 60-year intended lifespan for a plant built today will be plenty of time for the province’s international customers to shift to cleaner alternatives. “China may turn around and say, ‘You know, we don’t need to be importing fossil fuels from other countries, because we’ve become self-sufficient,'” she told Pittis.
In the United States, that same dynamic could put US$1.3 trillion in LNG investments at risk, CNN Business reports.
“The U.S. energy industry is scrambling to build dozens of expensive export terminals that can be used to ship cheap natural gas to China and other fast-growing economies that want to move away from coal,” the TV news site notes. But “while those investments make sense today, they will likely be derailed in the longer run by a combination of plunging renewable energy costs and rising climate change concerns.”
“We know that LNG is not a good answer climate-wise,” said Global Energy Monitor founder and director Ted Nace. “It might even be pretty foolish financially—for all the reasons that coal turned out to be a bad investment 10 years ago.”