No — natural gas is not really green energy

Feb 25, 2023 Herald Star


During the recent lame duck session, Ohio’s predominantly Republican Legislature and Gov. Mike DeWine rushed to pass HB 507. The amended bill prohibits communities from banning pesticides within city borders and allows state lands and parks to be leased for oil and gas development. The legislation also would “create a broad new legal definition of green energy that would include natural gas.”

An anonymously funded, pro-natural gas, dark money group, the Empowerment Alliance, helped Ohio lawmakers spin the narrative that natural gas is green. Labeling gas as green energy does not change the scientific facts: The combustion of methane produces carbon dioxide, and methane itself is a potent greenhouse gas.

The bio-geo-chemical processes that created the methane gas and coal deposits in the geographic area of Ohio took place millions of years ago, when carbon sources such as ancient plants and animals decayed in anaerobic conditions.

Coal has a higher percentage of carbon than methane; therefore, it produces more carbon dioxide per BTU when burned. However, both substances are fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, and both have limited supplies.

Methane produces lower carbon dioxide emissions when burned but that benefit is overshadowed by the fact that extracting methane using high-pressure hydraulic fracking releases enormous amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere. These emissions can be from leaks of storage tanks, compressor stations, blowdowns, pipelines and flaring.

A report published in “Energy Science and Engineering” states “natural gas (both shale gas and conventional gas) is responsible for much of the recent increases in methane emissions, and because of this have a higher greenhouse gas footprint than coal or oil. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Actual green energy sources differ dramatically from fracked methane gas when it comes to infrastructure needed, energy costs and environmental externalities. After initial construction, renewable energy projects such as wind turbines and solar panels require little resource inputs. Their energy sources are limitless and free and the carbon footprint is minimal. “Utility-scale renewable energy prices are now significantly below those of coal and gas.”

Fracking requires extensive infrastructure and constant inputs of resources such as water, sand and chemicals used to extract the methane. When it comes to the energy costs of fossil fuels, consumers are at the mercy of an industry which consistently makes record profits while it receives $20 billion a year in subsidies. Ohio’s southeastern counties provide examples of how fracking has turned rural communities into sacrificial industrial sites. Pipelines mar wooded hillsides; well pads rise over the landscape; and thousands of trucks loaded with carcinogenic chemicals, frack sand and toxic water travel our roads every day. Local residents are exposed to air and water emissions from the process which releases hazardous air pollutants and contaminants water.

In February 2018, a gas well in Belmont County experienced a blowout. The well released methane gas for 20 days before the leak could be contained. The total emissions from the 20-day event were estimated to be equivalent to the total annual emissions of several countries, or 120 metric tons per hour.

Given the significant contribution of methane gas to climate change and the environmental destruction caused by fracking, it is hard to understand why any educated person would call this energy source green. The only time “green” can legitimately be used to describe methane gas is when pointing out it is a potent greenhouse gas.