According to data from a new study released earlier this week, increased natural gas will have a minimal impact on reducing carbon emissions. The study, undertaken by researchers at University of California, Irvine, Stanford University, and the nonprofit organization Near Zerom determined that the availability of inexpensive natural gas increases electricity consumption and slows down the growth of cleaner energy sources such as wind, geothermal and solar.
The study was published earlier this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Details on the global warming study
The study modeled the effect of both high and low natural gas supplies on the U.S. power industry. Currently, coal-fired plants are the largest source of power in the U.S., and also produce vast quantities of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas relating to global warming, researchers say.
The problem is that recently proposed rules by the US Environmental Protection Agency rely heavily on the substitution of natural gas for coal to lower carbon emissions by 2030, and the study makes it clear the EPA’s analysis is flawed.
Statements from study authors
“In our results, abundant natural gas does not significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is true even if no methane leaks during production and shipping,” explained lead author Christine Shearer, a postdoc student in Earth system science at UC Irvine.
“Natural gas has been presented as a bridge to a low-carbon future, but what we see is that it’s actually a major detour. We find that the only effective paths to reducing greenhouse gases are a regulatory cap or a carbon tax,” Shearer continued.
Shearer and her co-authors come to the conclusion that greater use of natural gas is an ineffective strategy for long-term reduction of carbon emissions.
“Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” noted Steven Davis, assistant professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine and the study’s principal investigator.
“It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether,” said Davis.