Tag Archives: Natural Gas

Methane Leakage

naturalgasplant
When first introduced as an alternative fuel, natural gas seemed to be the perfect solution.  Unfortunately, new reports show that the natural gas, often described as the cleanest fossil fuel producing less carbon dioxide than oil and coal plants, is now leaking methane into the atmosphere.

Natural gas production releases methane gas, which is 25 times more powerful in warming the climate than CO2. Over the long-term, natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel more than coal is because it emits far less CO2, however, if we’re leaking a lot of methane we’re counteracting any sort of beneficial impact in the near-term.

Scientists have estimated that across all the various stages of natural gas production, such as drilling, extraction, processing, storage, transporting, and distributing the fuel, anywhere from 0.71 to 7.9 percent of the methane produced ends up escaping into the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as “methane leakage.” A study in 2011 demonstrated that the leak rate of methane was high enough to jeopardize its global warming advantage over coal. The problem is no one knows exactly how much methane is leaking into the air from natural gas production in the U.S.

Although there are no issues with the actual use of natural gas, obtaining this resource, through a process known as fracking, is what poses a problem. Initially, complaints about fracking were in reference to its contamination of local groundwater but the new research now indicates that groundwater isn’t the only victim.

This poses a major problem for our environment, due to methane’s efficacy at trapping heat.  Natural gas was chosen to replace coal because we wished to reduce carbon emissions but due to the “methane leakage,” what we lose in carbon dioxide will be replaced by methane.

Fracking is not the only one responsible for the release of this harmful greenhouse gas. It turns out that many natural gas locations are purposely allowing the natural gas to escape known as flaring.  The release of methane occurs because of the lack of pipeline networks to and from remote locations. This process not only unnecessarily adds to the increasing amounts of methane in our atmosphere, but also represents a waste of money and resources.

With the U.S. increasingly relying on natural gas to generate electricity displacing dirtier coal has laredy helped the U.S. dramatically lower their carbon emissions.  And yes, although it is abundant and clean there are some concerns with the process that need to be overcome.  The bottom line is that natural gas, abundant and clean should have less an effect on the climate compared to coal-fired power plants.

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From Trash to Power

fishkills

For years, landfills have been known as the enemy. Environmentalists have been arguing against the lack of value landfills bring and the numerous negative effects they pose to the environment and the people living in the surrounding areas.  It took some time, but Fresh Kills Landfill on New York City’s Staten Island has found a way to take state-of-the-art technology to turn their trash into something useful.

Fresh Kills Landfill is one of 30 landfills around the country that are turning landfill gas into “high BTU” pipeline quality natural gas and heating 342,000 homes per year.

Fresh Kills is not the only facility capable of such possibilities. Locations all over the country, such as Greenwood Farms Landfill in Tyler, Texas and Cedar Hills Regional Landfill in Maple Valley, Washington have been taking the extra step to create natural gas. In fact, 31 percent of U.S. landfills have taken this step, generating enough power for 1,829,000 homes.

Fresh Kills, which opened in 1948, stopped accepting waste in 2001. But decades later is still generating methane and is expected to do so at a significant rate for at least another decade. So, the city decided to turn what was once the largest landfill in the country, at 2,200 acres, into a park but needed to clean up the emissions in order to do so.

The Fresh Kills landfill now generates energy through the collection of released landfill gas. New York City is paid $12 million each year for the gas which means that the methane generated as this trash decomposes is no longer released into the atmosphere offering a great landscape for a park.

The obvious benefits from this project lie in the production of new energy, which is both cost-effective and eco-friendly. Not only does the project mitigate the dependency on fossil fuels, but the state of New York gets paid for this clean natural gas.

Power Plants are Thirsty

energywaterconsumption

Decisions made today about which power plants to build, which to retire, and which energy or cooling technologies to deploy and develop matter. Understanding how these choices affect water use and water stress will help ensure that the dependence of power plants on water does not compromise that resource, the plants themselves, or the energy we rely on them to provide.

The power plant portfolios of U.S. companies have widely varying water-use and carbon profiles.

Currently, the three leading players in the ‘energy game’ are coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Combined, they were responsible for almost 90 percent of the energy produced in 2012. The dirtiest of the three is the burning of coal due to its enormous output of greenhouse gases. And yet, the process shares more in common with nuclear power than one would think, as they both use enormous amounts of water.

By the numbers, coal-fired power plants and nuclear power plants are nearly neck in neck when it comes to gallons of water required to produce a megawatt-hour of energy (enough to power 1,000 houses for an hour).

Type of Power Plant

Number of
Facilities

Percent of Energy
Produced in 2012

Gallons of water
used per megawatt-hour of electricity

Wind

114

3.46%

0

Solar Photovoltaic

30

0.11%

26

Natural Gas

493

30%

198

Nuclear

104

19%

672

Coal

600

37%

687

The water intensity of these energy resources brings us face-to-face with the realities of energy and water overconsumption. High electricity consumption means more water withdrawals, placing extra strain on the water system. At the same time, emissions from power plants contribute to climate change and temperature spikes, which increases the amount of water required to produce more energy creating possible droughts.

Why is this a problem? Our water supplies are unlimited, right? WRONG.

We are currently trapped in a vicious cycle when it comes to our energy. The method that we deem to be greener “natural gas” uses a significantly smaller amount of water but we currently do not have enough of these facilities to power the entire United States, meaning that we have to invest in new programs which costs money and takes time. Our water supplies are on a ticking clock; eventually, we’ll run out of time.

There are low-water options in our future: renewable energy and energy efficiency.  For now, however, we must continue to conserve water while pushing towards the best available energy technologies for our states.  The more we invest in energy efficiency, the more we cut our overall energy use — saving enormous amounts of water and reducing harmful power plant emissions. After all, the cleanest source of energy is the energy (and water) we don’t use.

Is Fracking to Blame for the Contamination?

fracking-1

Currently, the majority of our world is dependent upon fossil fuels. In order to diminish this dependency, many have advocated for the use of natural gas as a replacement. Although natural gas can be cost-effective and exists in abundance in the US, obtaining this resource can be the cause of many environmental issues.

The main way to acquire natural gas is by the process of fracking. In this process, water and other compounds are pumped deep underground at high pressure to create cracks (fractures), which will release natural gas into collector wells.  As this process is extremely effective in removing the natural gas from the ground it also releases many harmful pollutants into the surrounding groundwater.

Researchers have discovered elevated levels of heavy metals in the groundwater surrounding natural gas extraction sites. These metals include strontium, selenium, and arsenic, which an already be found in groundwater in trace amounts which is okay, but elevated levels of these same metals can prove problematic, which is occurring in extraction sites all over the nation.

Back in 2009 in Dimock, Pennsylvania 18 families who lived near a natural gas extraction site banned together to file a complaint about the quality of their drinking water. They stated that the nearby drilling site had polluted their water supply with toxic chemicals and as a result suffered poor health. In response to these allegations, the EPA began testing the water. After almost five years of testing eleven wells, the EPA concluded that “methane and other gases released during drilling apparently caused significant damage to the water quality.”

Colorless, odorless, and highly flammable, methane is the primary component of natural gas. It is not regulated as a drinking water contaminant, but it poses potential health and safety hazards.

Scientists at Duke University have also conducted independent studies proving the same findings.  Drinking water wells located near natural gas extraction sites are at a greater risk of methane contamination. They believe that the chemical “fingerprint” of methane found in the drinking wells matched that of the natural gas’s methane composition. Of course, members of the drilling company argued that methane is naturally found in wells, but the scientists disagreed claiming that the type of methane found does not naturally occur in drinking water.

It is no coincidence that areas surrounding these facilities are discovering more and more issues with their water supply as evidence supports the idea that natural gas extraction sites are the ones to blame for increased contaminants in those supplies.

Unfortunately, there is just not enough data to support whether natural gas extraction contaminates groundwater, if fracking is to blame or how to keep it from happening elsewhere.

Ultimately, safer fracking operations will benefit the industry as well as the families living in fracking territory.  Until the public has full confidence that its drinking water is being safeguarded from contamination, they will continue to protest fracking’s expansion. Natural gas, what we thought to be an excellent solution, is crumbling before our eyes in regard to its process and value.