Contrary to popular belief, substituting natural gas (methane) for other fossil fuels actually worsens the greenhouse impact, according to a recent article on Roanoke.com. Bob Crawford, an artist and writer living in Virginia's Roanoke County, wrote that although natural gas burns with less carbon dioxide emission than coal or oil, "natural gas is obtained at the expense of an unavoidable escape of the gas. The escaped quantity must be included in any realistic calculation comparing natural gas use to the use of other fossil fuels, since methane is a very potent greenhouse gas."

The article cites an academic paper authored by Cornell University's Robert Howarth, entitled A Bridge to Nowhere: Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas. Three core points of Howarth's paper are:

  • Switching to natural gas from coal or oil "does reduce carbon dioxide, but it also increases methane emissions" to the extent that this switch actually increases the greenhouse footprint.

  • In fracking operations, methane always escapes, some during drilling, some when extracting the injected fracking fluid. In addition, some methane escapes in "downstream" processes - transport, pressurization and storage. The escaped percentage of fracked gas is, according to the best available studies, between 3.6 percent and 7.9 percent.

  • The methane escape percentage would have to be in the range of 2.4 percent to 3.2 percent in order for its use to have the same greenhouse footprint as coal or oil.

When in the atmosphere, methane has as much as 105 times the global warming potential (GWP) of an equal mass of carbon dioxide (measured on a 20-year scale), meaning methane is that much more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas (GHG), the article states.

The article notes that methane in the atmosphere now exceeds the net greenhouse effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Increasing methane release, as rampant fracking continues, will further accelerate greenhouse warming.

"As Howarth's compilation of current data shows, by using natural gas we avoid certain dangerous pollutants of coal and oil, but, in comparison to them, worsen the buildup of greenhouse gas and the resulting global warming," the Roanoke.com article states.

To read the Roanoke.com article, click here.