EnergyIssuesTradeDepartment of Energy Says Natural Gas Key to Decreasing Emissions in Europe and Asia

A new study touts potential environmental benefits as countries increasingly move towards natural gas to meet their energy needs.
September 30, 2019
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Europe and Asia are the two most densely populated continents. One wants to remain a first-world region and the other wants to become one. In order to accomplish both objectives, a great deal of energy is required. 

Eight of the top 12 countries in energy consumption are located on one of these two continents. Asia — specifically China and India — relies heavily on coal. 

Europe has a more diverse portfolio and has touted its commitment to renewable energy, but renewable energy is heavily supported by biomass. Despite its movement toward other energy sources, Europe still uses a significant amount of coal.

In order to address their growing energy demands, both Europe and Asia are increasing their usage of natural gas. And a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) study shows that choosing American natural gas over local coal supplies will result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

The study analyzes GHG aver a 20-year and 100-year window from American natural gas, European/Asian natural gas, and European/Asian coal.

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Over the 100-year window, American natural gas (from New Orleans to Rotterdam) is estimated to produce 636 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt-hour (kgCO2e/MWh) while Europe’s two listed natural gas suppliers (Algeria and Russia) clock in at an average of about 700 kgCO2e/MWh. 

Each of these is significantly less than the 1,085 kgCO2e/MWh estimated to come from Europe’s coal usage over the next 100 years.

Over the 20-year period for Europe, the variances are less stark. European coal usage is estimated to reach 1,090 kgCO2e/MWh, with Russian natural gas reaching 1,016 and Algeria emitting 865 kgCO2e/MWh, respectively. 

Meanwhile, American natural gas’ estimate reaches 719 kgCO2e/MWh.

Over in Asia, the coal estimations for both time periods are roughly the same as Europe. However, American natural gas over the next hundred years is estimated to produce 688 kgCO2e/MWh —more than Australia’s 671, but less than Russia’s 765 kgCO2e/MWh. 

However, during the 20-year period, American natural gas is estimated to give off fewer emissions than Australia and Russia.

Natural gas proponents point to this data as evidence that natural gas is both a more beneficial resource for Europe and Asia, and more beneficial for the climate. As calculated by the DOE, the United States’ natural gas upstream emission rate is less than each of the other suppliers. 

And the breakeven rate — the emission rate it would have to reach in order to equal the corresponding coal emission rate — is only more than Algeria’s to Rotterdam.

Texans for Natural Gas spokesman, Steve Everley, told The Texan, “The best way for us to address climate change is to help the world replicate the U.S. experience, which means increasing LNG exports to our trading partners in Europe and Asia.”

Everley then pointed to the trade war as an inhibitor to the reduction of emissions: “Tariffs and other trade restrictions are a barrier to climate progress, and this research proves it. Over the past 15 years, no fuel has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States than natural gas.”

However, some take issue with the study and the reliability of its estimates. 

Lorne Stockman, a senior research analyst at Oil Change International, told The Texan, “The study uses incredibly low methane leakage rates that serve to grossly underestimate the climate impact of LNG export.”

Several peer-reviewed studies have shown that methane is leaking at much higher rates from the US supply chain than the DOE figures suggest, and that methane levels in the atmosphere are growing at an alarming rate, accelerating climate change today,” Stockman continued.

Stockman then took issue with whether switching from coal to natural gas is enough of a jump. 

Pointing to an International Energy Agency study which indicated coal-to-gas switching to be the least effective way of reducing emissions, Stockman said, “We need to double down on replacing coal with genuine clean energy and energy efficiency.”

Making this story more complicated is a report from the Wall Street Journal that American shale production is stagnating. Through the first six months of 2019, production increased by a measly one percent compared to the seven percent growth from the previous six months. 

Right now, U.S. shale production accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s total output.

Some see this as a sign of improved long-term sustainability while others see it as a sign of nearing peak production. With the slower production growth, this could ignite consolidation within the industry as fewer smaller shops will be able to find willing creditors to expand their operations.

Regardless, it is clear demand for energy sources other than coal is rising. The U.S., and Texas specifically, potentially stand to gain a lot from the trend.

However, exactly how much the trend will reduce GHG emissions remains to be seen. But that hasn’t stopped nations in Europe and Asia from looking to natural gas as a key component for their respective energy strategies.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.