Monday, August 20, 2012

An Improving Atmospheric State?

United States CO2 emissions on the decline, but this does not account for phantom methane emissions from natural gas.

According to the Rachel Nuwer of the New York Times, annual atmospheric carbon emissions are lower than anytime during the previous two decades. It's an interesting face to note in this article that they attribute this to the rise in natural gas production and usage. Pennsylvania has played a key role in this growing industry over the past few years and it will be interesting to see what will happen with future carbon emissions as our natural gas consumption goes up and coal-based fuels go down. According to the article, natural gas now accounts for 30% of electricity and coal-based has fallen from 40% to 34% (industries such as solar and wind account for roughly 5%). Should we not see the writing on the wall that we do need to phase out coal-based electric production, phase in natural gas even more, and tax this industry at a reasonable level with that tax 100% going towards to research and development of renewable and alternative forms of energy?

In a recently blog post on natural gas flaring, I discuss what this article describes as "fugitive methane" or unexpected/unaccounted for emissions of methane from flaring and hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking). This is true that these emissions are not accounted for, so maybe Ms. Nuwer should account for these emissions if they are such as worry before making bold statements about the atmospheric state? Methane is, in fact, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so we should be worrying about these phantom emissions, but I am not sure (although this article does a good job at summarizing the different viewpoints and facts on this issue) of the validity of these fugitive claims. It is reported to be up to 72 times more potent over a 20 year time frame, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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