Could LNG Be Causing More Harm Than Good?
According to the International Energy Agency, natural gas will become the world’s second-largest energy source by 2030, overtaking coal but falling behind oil. The major drivers for this shift are the goal to lessen air pollution and the growing popularity of LNG that is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. However, while LNG emissions when its used as fuel are less harmful to the atmosphere than coal or diesel, could the production process of this liquefied gas undo the greenhouse gas benefits?
Where’s the harm?
Natural gas production can cause methane emissions which is a powerful greenhouse gas, about 100 times more potent at trapping energy than CO2. According to a study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), if the methane leakage is bigger than 3%, it could offset the benefits of eliminating coal use.
Recently, methane emissions measurements were conducted at more than 700 facilities across the natural gas supply chain in the U.S. by research teams at Colorado State University. The results revealed that the methane leak rate in the U.S. oil and gas industry is 2.3%. While the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the rate to be only 1.4%. Regardless of which number is correct, measures still need to be taken to make sure the risk of such leaks is decreased.
In Australia, the concern lies with the emissions from major LNG projects. CO2 is released into the atmosphere when it is separated from natural gas during liquefaction. Since the gas is then cooled to -162°C, the carbon dioxide, if not removed beforehand, would freeze solid. For this reason, LNG production contributes to about 5% of the country’s national carbon dioxide emissions. This percentage is projected to grow to 7% by 2020 and even more if more LNG facilities come on stream.
How to turn it around?
Government regulations can play an important part in eliminating the adverse effects of LNG emissions by enforcing stricter controls. Already, in Canada tighter regulations for drilling and natural gas processing in British Columbia have managed to reduce the emissions to be five to eight times lower than from gas produced in the U.S.
The Australian situation is being solved by introducing the world’s largest commercial carbon injection project. The government of Western Australia came to an agreement with Gorgon gas project operators to capture and store 80% of its reservoir emissions and bury them in a reservoir 2km beneath Barrow Island, instead of releasing the CO2 into the air.
New technologies that detect methane leaks can also ensure an environmentally friendly gas production process. What are they and where to get them? You can find out directly from industry’s leading innovators and solution suppliers at the 3rd Annual LNG USA Summit in Houston on February 26-27, 2019. Green technologies, innovative solutions and actionable advice will be shared by LNG experts and prominent operators. Register to attend and get answers to all your questions about the environmental impact of LNG.