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Global Climate Change DigestArchives of the
Global Climate Change Digest

A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999

FROM VOLUME 2, NUMBER 10, OCTOBER 1989

REPORTS...
NATURAL GAS VS. OIL, COAL

Following are several recent, related reports addressing the contributions to production of various greenhouse gases resulting from the entire process of obtaining, processing, distributing and using these three fossil fuels.


Item #d89oct33

Relative Greenhouse Heating from the Use of Fuel Oil and the Use of Natural Gas, D. Abrahamson (Public Affairs, Univ. Minn.), 50 pp., June 1989. Request from Oil Heat Task Force, c/o New England Fuel Inst., POB 888, Watertown MA 02272 (617-924-1000).

While combustion of natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than combustion of fuel oil, leakage in natural gas distribution systems releases methane, which has a much larger greenhouse heating potential than carbon dioxide. Using government and industry data on production and transportation of natural gas, this study estimates that if total leakage exceeds 1-2%, the resulting greenhouse heating exceeds that from the use of fuel oil. Based on aggregate U.S. data, leakage is about 0.13%; if the maximum amount of gas reported "lost and unaccounted for" is included, leakage would be 6%, leading to at least twice as much total greenhouse heating as from fuel oil. Stabilization of greenhouse heating from methane emissions may best be achieved by limiting venting and leakage associated with natural gas use.


Item #d89oct34

CH4/CO Emission from Fossil Fuels: Global Warming Potential, P.A. Okram, T. Kram, 29 pp., June 1989. Energy Study Ctr., Netherlands Energy Res. Foundation, POB 1, 1755 ZG Petten, Neth. (tel: NL-2246-4347).

Considers whether methane and carbon monoxide (CH4/CO) emissions from natural gas systems, in large part from leakage, can offset the lower carbon dioxide emissions of natural gas combustion compared to those of fuel oil and coal. A sensitivity and uncertainty analysis is presented for the estimated global warming potential of (CH4/CO), which incorporates many uncertainties. Concludes that the relative global warming potentials (considering all contributions associated with production and distribution of each fuel) are the same as for direct carbon dioxide release alone: natural gas least, followed by oil and then coal.


Item #d89oct35

The American Gas Association has issued several documents recently, which include a brief rebuttal of the Abrahamson study above. All are available at no charge from AGA Planning & Analysis, 1515 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22209 (703-841-8476).

Comments on Relative Greenhouse Heating from the Use of Fuel Oil and the Use of Natural Gas, 3 pp., Aug. 1989. The AGA disputes that significant leakage of methane occurs from gas industry operations, and challenges the large value of greenhouse warming potential of methane compared to carbon dioxide used in the study.

Natural Gas and Climate Change: The Greenhouse Effect (Issue Brief 89-7), 16 pp., June 1989. Argues that natural gas is superior to other fossil fuels from the standpoint of greenhouse gas production, for both stationary and mobile applications. Its use in conjunction with other fuels also reduces their emissions of other gases, such as reactive hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, which contribute to formation of the greenhouse gas ozone. Concludes that encouraging the use of natural gas offers a cost-effective element of any greenhouse response strategy.

Identification of Errors in Science Concepts Inc. Greenhouse Paper (Issue Brief 1989-13), 9 pp., Aug. 1989. A critical discussion pointing out methodological errors in a report (Indirect Sources of Greenhouse Gases in the Energy Sector, Science Concepts Inc., Washington, D.C., June 1989), which concluded that the global warming advantages of natural gas are outweighed by the impact of leakage in distribution systems. According to Science Concepts (202-659-4977), that report is in revision and unavailable at present.

Global Climate Change and Emerging Technologies for Electric Utilities: The Role of Natural Gas, N.E. Hay, P.M. Wilkinson, W.M. James, 32 pp., 1988. Prepared as input to U.S. EPA's policy option study, this white paper finds that natural gas use can minimize pollution by greenhouse and acid precursor gases, and contribute to a least-cost national energy strategy.


Item #d89oct36

The Role of Methane in Tropospheric Chemistry, D.S. Golomb (MIT Energy Lab., Cambridge, Mass.), 16 pp., Mar. 1989. Order Cat. No. F00799 from American Gas Assoc. (address immed. above; 703-841-8558), $30 nonmembers, $5.25 members.

From a detailed analysis of the reactions of methane with atmospheric species, the authors conclude that it does play a role in generating the general background of global tropospheric ozone (a greenhouse gas), but plays only a minor role in urban and rural ozone formation.

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