Monday, July 16, 2012

Caught in the act?

In James Conca's recent article, Fugitive Methane Caught in the Act of Raising GHG, Forbes Magazine argues that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (true) and that over the span of the lifecycle of extracting natural gas it has higher emissions of CO2 (1,200 gCO2/kWhr [grams of Carbon Dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy produced]) compared to coal (975 gCO2/kWhr). I find their argument flawed. They even go so far as to state that the measurements for coal were taken only at the power plant source, where natural gas measures a weaker 600 gCO2/kWhr. The 1,200 measurement takes into account what they call "fugitive emissions," or those lost during the drilling process, etc.

Are there not fugitive emissions for extracting coal from the ground? How much carbon dioxide is used to run the machines to remove a whole mountain top from the West Virginia Appalachians? How much is used to haul this coal around the country? You cannot make an argument based upon two entirely scales of measurement. It's a flawed argument. Another huge factor Mr. Conca omits is the intrinsic value of nature. Natural gas drilling uses less land than coal drilling (water is another issues and I don't know the statistics for water used or polluted during coal extraction, so I won't argue it). My home in western Pennsylvania is dominated by natural gas wells and coal quarries. I can tell you that upon the drilling of the natural gas well, you are left with a small well head and a tiny dirt road into the area. Upon completion of a strip mine...well, I think we all know what you're left with. There is value in plants, value in animals, and extreme value in the ecosystem role that they play. Why not calculate life cycle costs of these or the ability to plants to sequester carbon from the atmosphere? Coal is getting rid of more trees than natural gas (based upon my own observations). So many factors come into play when we try to make these arguments.

I've said it once and I'll say it again. Natural gas drilling is a good alternative to coal for the moment...but not a long-term solution. We need to be taxing natural gas drillers at an acceptable rate and investing that in the research and development of more sustainable forms of technology. Would I love to see our country and our world relying solely on photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, and hydro power? It's a resounding yes and I fully believe every politician, regardless of party, would agree with me. It's just not economically feasible at this point in our nation to stop extracting natural resources. I believe God gave us these resources, gave us mastery over Earth, but also calls us to be stewards of the environment. We can use these resources, but still lessen our impacts and attempt to leave the plant unimpeded for future generations.

No comments:

Post a Comment