The use of natural gas as an energy source, to produce electricity, is becoming more common in the United States. Due to growing concerns regarding global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG); the country’s dependence on foreign oil; and the fears that conventional natural gas supplies could be depleted within the next decade, the United States has begun developing alternative energy sources. Most critics would agree that clean alternative energy is the ideal source of electricity, but many argue about the available technology and efficiency of these sources. Many believe extracting unconventional natural gas sources would greatly benefit the United States in terms of limiting foreign oil dependency and providing a clean energy source, while others argue that cleaner coal technology is needed. The United States’ total natural gas production comes from four sources: gas wells, oil well, shale gas, and coalbed wells (Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2012). Concurrently, the percentage of total gas production from shale gas has been growing rapidly, from 8.1% in 2007 to 34.9% in 2012 (EIA, 2014c). Examining the extraction methods, environmental impacts and the GHG emissions of fossil fuel sources provides evidence for the use of natural gas while cleaner technology is still being developed.
The use of natural gas as a bridge fuel to cleaner technology is impeded by the potential to increase global warming due to leakage of methane (CH4) during production, distribution, and combustion (Methane, 2014). The global warming potential of methane, the major component of natural gas, is 20 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 100 year period (EPA, 2013b). Current literature is in support of natural gas as a transitional fuel, however it also acknowledges the limitations to estimating emissions specifically related to its production and use. Brandt et al. (2014) identified gaps in CH4 emission data highlighting the need for further studies and life cycle analysis of operating wells to determine to what extent intentional and unintentional (fugitive) releases of methane contribute to the increased amount of methane present in the environment.
It is the position of this paper, that while data is limited, with further technological advances and monitoring natural gas can be an effective transitional fuel source for electricity production. The paper includes a discussion of conventional sources of energy production and their extraction methods as well as the environmental impacts associated with each. The results section includes a compilation of data retrieved from multiple sources indicating global warming potentials associated with coal and natural gas. Finally, a discussion of the results confirms that based on available data natural gas is a viable alternative energy source for electricity production.
Coal is the most abundant domestically produced conventional fuel source in the United States. In 2012,...