Category Archives: T. Boone Pickens

“Natural gas” hurts the environment more than it helps: demystifying the T. Boone Pickens plan…

The natural gas industry likes to cast itself as a green alternative in the fight against global warming, with folks like T. Boone Pickens and his allies at the forefront of the effort to increase gas use for electricity generation and as an automobile fuel.
Now Congress appears ready to provide taxpayer subsidies in a Senate energy bill for parts of the Pickens plan. But let’s be sure we’re getting good public policy, not just an expensive public relations push.
To date, little evidence has surfaced to support the notion that increasing our use of natural gas will actually help the environment. In fact, an increase in natural gas usage could hurt the environment more than it helps.

Let’s start with the concept that natural gas is “clean.” If you look at a coal-fired power plant versus a gas-powered plant, gas looks better at first blush because there is less carbon dioxide per kilowatt coming out of the gas plant’s smokestack.

But there’s a lot more to the climate impacts of natural gas than emissions at the power plant. Leaks of methane occur at every stage of natural gas production and transport – during drilling, at the wellsite, at compressor stations, and in the pipeline. These methane leaks add up, and methane is twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Many leaks are the result of inefficient operations and a lack of trained professionals to employ the simple, cost-effective fixes available through the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR program.

Gas production can also cause major methane leaks from outcrops of gas-bearing rock. In the Raton Basin of southeastern Colorado, dozens of these methane seeps have been identified, many of them associated with the gas industry. In the Atlantic Rim of Wyoming, the onset of coalbed methane development has resulted in new seeps rivaling the mud pots of Yellowstone National Park in size, and emitting thousands of cubic feet of gas per minute into the atmosphere.

All these methane leaks, and their emissions of potent greenhouse gases, need to be accounted for when examining the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas versus coal. When leaks are added in, natural gas is hardly better than coal from a climate change perspective. Continue reading

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