How Polluting Is Natural Gas?

When natural gas is burned for energy, it produces fewer air pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) than when coal or petroleum products are burned to produce the same amount of energy. Natural gas emits about 117 pounds of CO2 per million British thermal units (MMBtu), compared to more than 200 pounds per MMBtu from coal and more than 160 pounds per MMBtu from distillate fuel oil. Natural gas’s clean-burning attributes have contributed to greater natural gas use in the United States for electricity generation and as a transportation fuel for fleet cars.

Is natural gas safe for the environment?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, although it is more efficient and cleaner than other traditional fuels.

According to the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, natural gas creates less pollution and greenhouse emissions than its rivals. Natural gas, for example, emits 45 percent less CO2 than coal, 30 percent less than oil, and 15 percent less than wood when burned. It creates heat, water vapor, and carbon dioxide upon combustion.

Natural gas is both affordable and plentiful, with Alberta producing 67 percent of Canada’s natural gas, according to the province’s energy ministry. Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fueland many consider it to be a critical ingredient as the world transitions to a cleaner future. It isn’t as clean as wind or solar electricity, but it is the cleanest fossil fuel.

The majority of natural gas utilized in the United States is produced domestically, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Natural gas-powered appliances, cars, and power plants, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), are extremely efficient. Natural gas is a cleaner energy choice because of its great efficiency.

The LNG Facts, Canada’s Natural Gas, and CAPP websites all have more information on natural gas.

How much pollution is produced by natural gas?

Natural gas combustion produces less sulfur, mercury, and particulates than other fossil fuels, making it a cleaner alternative. Natural gas combustion does produce nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are precursors to smog, albeit at lower quantities than gasoline and diesel. According to DOE estimates, every 10,000 U.S. houses that use natural gas instead of coal emit 1,900 tons of NOx, 3,900 tons of SO2, and 5,200 tons of particulates per year. Reductions in these emissions promote public health because these pollutants have been connected to hundreds of thousands of Americans suffering from asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer, and heart disease.

Despite these advantages, unconventional gas development can have a negative impact on local and regional air quality. Particulate matter and ozone plus its precursors, two of the six “criteria pollutants” regulated by the EPA because of their negative effects on health and the environment, have increased in quantities in some locations where drilling takes place. High amounts of these air pollutants can cause a variety of health problems, including respiratory discomfort, cardiovascular illness, and cancer. Residents living less than half a mile from unconventional gas well sites were shown to be at higher risk of health consequences from natural gas development air pollution than those living farther away, according to a recent study.

Is natural gas in any way inferior to electricity?

3. It emits far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than electricity.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, yet it is significantly less harmful to the environment than electricity. Because of its chemical nature, it emits far fewer pollutants than coal.

Here are some concrete reasons why natural gas is a better option for the environment:

  • A gas-powered hot water system generates 62% less CO2 than an electric counterpart in South Australia.
  • A gas-powered hot water system emits 83 percent less CO2 than an electric counterpart in Victoria.
  • The emissions produced by a natural gas-powered hot water system are comparable to those produced by a system that uses a 50/50 renewable energy/coal electricity mix.
  • Gas presently provides 44% of residential energy in Australia, but only creates 13% of household greenhouse gas emissions.
  • When compared to electricity, gas has a greater yield rate* (90%) from extraction to delivery, making it significantly more efficient.
  • According to data from the International Gas Union, the oldest power plants use 60 percent more coal to create the same amount of power as a natural gas power plant.

*The quantity of energy gained through harvesting the initial energy source is referred to as the “yield rate.”

Disclaimer: The figures given are based on regular tariffs as of 1 July 2017 and apply to an average South Australian and Victorian family.

Is natural gas harmful to the environment?

Natural gas production in the United States has expanded dramatically as a result of technological advancements, keeping prices historically low and encouraging many electric utilities and industrial enterprises to move from coal to natural gas. Policies, to a lesser extent, have influenced the shift to natural gas. Because natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal or a third as much as petroleum, the switch to natural gas has accounted for much of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the US electric sector in recent years. Emissions have also been reduced as a result of renewable energy policies. As of 2019, natural gas accounts for 38 percent of all electricity generation in the United States, making it the country’s largest energy source.

  • Natural gas is being used to replace diesel and gasoline in buses and heavy-duty trucks.
  • In industry, natural gas is being used in more efficient combined heat and power systems.
  • Continued replacement of coal generation by natural gas combined-cycle turbines and fuel cells in the United States and other coal-heavy countries, where zero-emission sources (e.g., renewables, nuclear) cannot meet the full generation capacity needed.
  • Combining natural gas-fired facilities with renewable energy sources, such as solar, as peak-use or backup plants to smooth out intermittent generation.
  • Blending hydrogen (particularly hydrogen produced from low-carbon sources) with natural gas in pipelines minimizes downstream air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions since hydrogen burns cleaner.
  • Using steam methane reforming and carbon capture technology to produce “blue” hydrogen from natural gas, which is in line with 2050 climate goals.

Natural gas generation, on the other hand, has flaws. In 2018, natural gas burning accounted for a third of all carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in the United States. Furthermore, methane leaks from natural gas extraction and transportation affect global climate change. Over a 100-year period, methane (the principal component of natural gas) has a global warming potential 21 times greater than carbon dioxide, despite the fact that methane lasts considerably less time in the atmosphere (about a dozen years) than carbon dioxide (many decades).

To fully achieve natural gas’s potential climatic advantages, technologies and regulations are required to:

  • Reduce methane leaks, venting, and flaring, the main component of natural gas, which has a short-term but significant greenhouse gas impact. Methane leaks are difficult to accurately account for; the federal government estimates a 1.4 percent leakage rate, but other publications, such as those from Colorado State University and the Environmental Defense Fund, use figures as high as 2.3 and 3.7 percent, respectively. Regardless, methane leaks can raise rates and negate much of the environmental benefits of moving from coal to natural gas. For reasons of safety, economics, or operational expediency, natural gas producers also release methane by “venting” or “flaring.” Because it emits greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere, state and federal rules limit the amount of venting and flaring that can be done. Sensible policy and technology solutions can aid in properly measuring and reducing methane leaks during production, transmission, and distribution.
  • Capture carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas combustion. Carbon capture systems have the potential to reduce emissions from natural gas and coal-fired power plants dramatically. These technologies are already in use in the industrial sector, but they are only now making their way into the energy sector. NET Power’s Allam Cycle technology, which is being evaluated on a 50-megawatt-thermal scale near Houston, could generate electricity from natural gas with near-zero CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions, as well as eliminate the need for water cooling.

Which fuel is the most environmentally friendly?

Finally, “which fuel is more environmentally friendly?” Which sort of engine emits the least amount of pollution? As a result, there are fewer harmful emissions.

Diesel is the solution to two of the questions. Diesel fuel emits fewer and less hazardous emissions than gasoline. Diesel engines also have a superior fuel economy. A multitude of reasons are likely to be at play in the disparity.

Why is there a disparity between the number of diesel passenger vehicles in the United States and the rest of the world?

Diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines in terms of fuel consumption. Diesel engines emit significantly fewer and less hazardous emissions than gasoline engines. They are more environmentally friendly. So, why do American drivers nearly never purchase them?

Is natural gas poisonous?

Natural gas is almost completely made up of methane, with small amounts of ethane, propane, butane, and pentane thrown in for good measure. Methane is made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms in a molecule. Natural gas is colorless, non-toxic, invisible, and odorless, yet all natural gas carried in Connecticut has an odorant added to it. This odorant, known as mercaptan, is a crucial safety safeguard since it emits a characteristic odor (similar to rotten eggs) in the event of a gas leak.

Is natural gas the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel?

The majority of the energy in the United States comes from the combustion of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are not only a nonrenewable resource, but they also harm the ecosystem and contribute to global warming. It is critical that the United States reduces its reliance on fossil fuels and shifts to renewable energy sources. Natural gas is a major source of energy in the United States (Figure 1, EIA, 2008) and is used in a variety of industries (Figure 2, data from EIA, 2008).

The Marcellus Shale holds 50 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, enough to supply the United States for two years at present consumption rates1.

Comparison of Emissions for Fuel Sources

Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel in terms of emissions from power plants. The emissions of numerous stack gasses for natural gas, oil, and coal are compared using data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) branch of the Department of Energy (DOE). Natural gas does not emit considerable amounts of nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide, in addition to reducing CO2 emissions.

Leaks of methane (CH4) from natural gas pipelines, on the other hand, could be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Because methane contributes more to climate change per pound than CO2, even tiny methane leaks could cause natural gas to contribute more to climate change than coal. According to a 1997 research by the EPA and GRI, natural gas’s lower CO2 emissions outweigh any greenhouse gas emissions from methane leaks2. It’s uncertain whether these figures still apply to contemporary gas output, but in 1997, natural gas leaks were estimated to account for 19-21 percent of anthropocentric methane emissions in the United States3. Before making precise comparisons between the climate change effects of natural gas and other fossil fuels, more conclusive research is required.

Water withdraws

For cooling plant equipment, power plants require enormous amounts of clean freshwater. Power generation in the Susquehanna Valley, Pennsylvania, consumes 150 million gallons of water every day. In this area, the projected peak water demand for shale gas drilling is only 8.5 million gallons per day. 4

Probability of failure

The American Petroleum Institute looked into the possibility of injected fluids contaminating subsurface drinking water sources in the 1980s (USDW). The likelihood of failure, assuming acceptable well casing design, was calculated to be between 2 x 10-5 and 2 x 10-8. The probability that a well will damage a USDW is predicted to be even smaller than 2 x 10-8 due to new developments in well construction technology and taking injection conditions into account. Failure of the lined fracking liquids containment ponds is another possible source of contamination of USDWs. The chances of failure are projected to be increased, but this is unknown.

Other Environmental Concerns

In general, natural gas extraction and combustion are more environmentally beneficial than coal. While other fossil fuels can be more harmful and destructive, natural gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing has far more negative environmental repercussions.

Water Pollution

Coal mining and combustion contribute significantly to water contamination. Permitting restrictions under the Clean Air Act require coal-fired power stations to remove dangerous substances from flue gas. Scrubbers, which take flue gas and extract contaminants into water, are used to remove these compounds. The water is treated in the power plants, and the operators are granted a discharge permit under the Clean Water Act to discharge it into a local stream. Arsenic, aluminum, boron, chromium, manganese, nickel, and lead are all common pollutants found in power plant waste water. Many dangerous contaminants discovered in power plant waste water effluent emissions are not controlled or are only regulated in certain specific circumstances, according to a New York Times study of EPA records. In addition to the sporadic regulation of contaminants in wastewater, the provisions of the discharge permit have been demonstrated to be laxly enforced. Many cases of arsenic entering streams at amounts surpassing 18 times the federal drinking water standard, for example, were discovered by the Times research. 6

Acid Rain

Unlike natural gas, coal and oil emissions can create acid rain, which occurs when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere to form acid rain.

Acid Mine Drainage

The drainage from current and retired coal mines, known as Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), is another impact of coal mining and extraction on regional water quality. AMD is the most frequent non-point source pollutant in the Mid Atlantic region. When pyrite combines with air and water to produce sulfuric acid and dissolved iron, AMD is generated. This can result in red, yellow, or orange silt in streambeds, as well as the dissolution of other heavy metals, which are then released into surface and groundwater systems. AMD has harmed about 4,000 kilometers of waterways in the Mid Atlantic region. AMD has also killed fish and other aquatic species, as well as contaminated drinking water supplies. 7

Mountaintop Removal

West Virginia, Mountaintop Removal, and Coal Strip Mining Blaine O’Neill 2010 photo

In the United States, mountaintop coal mining has recently increased. This method entails clearing mountains of trees and topsoil, then using explosives to obtain access to coal buried beneath. Mountaintop clearance affects large swaths of deciduous woodland, increasing runoff and destroying habitat. Headwaters can be buried, aquatic habitats are harmed, and downstream water becomes extremely contaminated when valleys are filled with debris created by mountaintop removal. Organisms, ecological function, and human health are all threatened by this water pollution. 8


M.R. Harrison, T.M. Shires, J.K. Wessels, and R.M. Cowgill. 2. Harrison, M.R., T.M. Shires, J.K. Wessels, and R.M. Cowgill. 1997. Emissions of Methane from the Natural Gas Industry National Risk Management Research Laboratory of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

3. Kirchgessner, D.A., R.A. Lott, R.M. Cowgill, M.R. Harrison, T.M. Shires, R.A. Lott, R.M. Cowgill, R.M. Cowgill, R.M. Cowgill, R.M. Cowgill, R.M. Cowgill, Estimated methane emissions from the natural gas industry in the United States. Pages 1365-1390 in Chemosphere, Volume 35, Issue 6, September 1997.

“Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer,” United States Department of Energy (DOE). April of that year. Dept Energy Report Shale Gas Primer 2009.pdf

ibid. 4.

6. Charles Duhigg, “Cleaning the Air at the Cost of Waterways.” The New York Times published an article on the 12th of October, 2009. The Energy Information Administration published this report in 2008. Energy Review for the Year.

M.A. Palmer, E.S. Bernhardt, W.H. Schlesinger, K.N. Eshleman, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, M.S. Hendryx, A.D. Lemly, G.E. Likens, O.L. Loucks, M.E. Power, P.S. White, and P.R. Wilcock are among the authors of this paper. Science 327: 148-149, 2010. Mountaintop Mining Consequences.

Natural gas is a nonrenewable resource

Natural gas, like other fossil energy sources (such as coal and oil), is a finite resource that will eventually run out. Despite the fact that it is a non-renewable and non-sustainable energy source, it can nonetheless contribute to our planet’s long-term viability. Natural gas can be used to advantage as a “cleaner alternative for oil and coal until renewable energy dominates the energy mix of the world.

Natural Gas Emits Carbon Dioxide

This is by far the most significant drawback of natural gas. We’ll talk about how you can use carbon offsets to offset your natural gas usage in a sustainable way at the end of this piece.

Natural gas can be difficult to harness

To use natural gas, all of its components must be removed (excluding methane). Hydrocarbons (ethane, propane, etc.), sulfur, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and even helium and nitrogen are produced as a result of this process.

Natural gas was originally used to power street lights in the early 1800s, and then for heating and cooking in the 1900s, although it was far less common than coal and oil. Natural gas exploded in popularity as extraction and transportation methods improved considerably during the last fifty years. It now supplies 22 percent of the world’s energy, which is used for heating, generating electricity, and even fueling engines, and is considered as cleaner and less expensive than coal.

Natural gas has both benefits and drawbacks. Despite its drawbacks, natural gas remains one of the world’s most affordable and widely available fossil fuels, and it can serve as a viable substitute for other fossil fuels until something more efficient is discovered. Natural gas is unquestionably a booming business that, with additional technological advancements, can help lead the way to a more sustainable future.

Is natural gas a better alternative than oil?

Regular natural gas system maintenance has the added benefit of removing the threats of carbon monoxide build-up. On a worldwide scale, gas is also safer for the environment than heating oil because natural gas emits 25% less carbon dioxide than oil.