How Bad Is Natural Gas For The Environment?

How Bad Is Natural Gas For The Environment?

Although natural gas is promoted as a clean energy source, this is not how it actually works. A fossil fuel with a high pollution level is natural gas.

Natural Gas’s Negative Effects Include:

Climate Change

Fossil fuel combustion puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which raises CO2 levels, traps heat, and causes climate change on a worldwide scale.

Although natural gas burns more cleanly than coal and liquid petroleum, it still releases a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane into the atmosphere.

Combustion, the method used to produce power, releases CO2.

During the extraction and transportation of natural gas, significant amounts of methane are released. Over a 20-year period, methane is 87 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (1).

According to studies, since 2002, worldwide methane emissions have sharply increased. The surge in natural gas extraction in the US is mostly to blame for this. Any decrease in CO2 emissions brought about by switching to natural gas from coal is negated by methane leaks (1,2).

Air Toxicity

Another negative impact of using fossil fuels is air pollution. Unlike the effects of carbon dioxide, those of air pollution are typically more localized and can have catastrophic repercussions on nearby ecosystems and populations.

Pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the atmosphere when natural gas leaks at extraction sites. Ground-level ozone sometimes referred to as smog, is created when VOCs such as trimethyl benzenes, xylenes, and aliphatic hydrocarbons combine.

How Bad Is Natural Gas For The Environment?

Smog is particularly dangerous to the elderly, young children, and those who have asthma because it can have a variety of respiratory and cardiovascular consequences on them (3,4).

Workers and neighboring communities are at risk from gas leaks on drilling sites and diesel fumes from operating trucks and machinery. Residents of locations with high oil and gas activity have been found to have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases and cancer (5).

Water Toxicity

Water contamination is another more regionally specific result of the use of fossil fuels. Water is typically contaminated during the extraction process or when waste materials are handled. The environment and human health are both gravely impacted by water contamination.

Natural gas is recovered from wells using a procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking is risky because of various factors, including:

Fracking can utilize between 1.5 and 15.8 million gallons of water per well, depending on the area and type of well (6).

The majority of the time, Class II injection wells are used to dispose of the wastewater from these wells. There is evidence to support the theory that these wells can cause earthquakes to occur nearby. This increases the possibility of groundwater contamination with wastewater, putting both people and buildings at risk (7,8)

Additives in the fracking fluid can contaminate groundwater as a result of mishaps or poorly constructed wells (9). These additives may contain hazardous substances like lead and benzene, which are poisonous to people (9,10).

The components of fracking fluid need not be disclosed by extraction businesses. Numerous parts are regarded as “trade secrets” and are never disclosed to regulatory bodies (10).

How Bad Is Natural Gas For The Environment?

In wastewater pipes, naturally occurring radioactive elements can accumulate because they frequently rise to the surface. Because of this, maintenance employees may be exposed to radiation levels beyond the standard (11).

(1) Environmental Protection Agency. “Overview of Greenhouse Gases.” Web. 23 August 2016.

(2) A. J. Turner, D. J. Jacob, O. Hasekamp, A. Butz, J. Benmergui, S. C. Wofsy, J. D. Maasakkers, and S. C. Biraud. Methane emissions in the United States have significantly increased during the previous ten years, according to satellite data and ground observations. 2016: 2218–224, Geophysical Research Letters 43.5.

(3). “Ozone Pollution’s Health Effects.” Environmental Protection Agency website, accessed August 23, 2016.

(4). “Health Effects of Air Pollution,” paragraph 4. CalEPA.gov. Air Resources Board of California, California Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 23 August 2016.

(5). Lisa Mckenzie, John L. Adgate, Roxana Z. Witter, Lee S. Newman. Assessment of the air pollution risk to human health caused by the extraction of unconventional natural gas resources. Total Environmental Science (2012)

(6). “Methodology for estimating volumes of water and proppant injection, and water production related with the development of continuous petroleum accumulations” by S.S. Haines USGS (2015): 1117–18 U.S. Geological Survey

(7). Science 341.6142 (2013): 1225942. Ellsworth, W. L. “injection-induced Earthquakes.”

(8). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Minimizing and Managing Potential Impacts of Injection-Induced Seismicity from Class II Disposal Wells: Practical Approaches” (2015)

(9). According to EPA.gov, “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources.” E.P.A. of the United States (2015)

(10). “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing” is number ten. Committee on Energy and Commerce of the US House of Representatives (2011)

(11) “TENORM: Wastes from Oil and Gas Production.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.gov, 23 August 2016, online.

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