NYTimes food columninst Mark Bittman writes:
Natural gas is made up mostly of methane , and methane, unburned, is around 70 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. There isn’t nearly as much of it, and it’s shorter lived, but it’s not so short-lived that we can allow a great deal to escape into the atmosphere, which it does when anything in the production, transmission or distribution processes leaks . It’s a scarily powerful greenhouse gas for over 20 years, and merely powerful (25 times stronger than carbon dioxide) over a span of 100 years. By which time much of the world’s coastline will be what we now call “inland.”
To see natural gas as even semi-clean, then, you have to burn all you take out of the ground . Because at least one study found that if as little as 3 percent of the methane produced escapes, you might as well be burning coal, from a climate perspective . All that talk of a bridge to a renewable future … forget it. That’s why Anthony R. Ingraffea, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, refers to natural gas as a “gangplank”…
We’re running out of time to measure emissions, and we’ll never arrive at an absolute number anyway. Embarking on a huge push to real renewables, and accepting the costs — which may actually be less than making natural gas “clean” — is the only responsible path to take. The real bridge to renewables is to begin to dismantle the existing infrastructure, starting with coal and nuclear — while using it as necessary to fill in the inevitable gaps as we build a new infrastructure of power from solar, wind and more.
If that’s impossible, we blew it. And if you plan to be on earth 50 years from now, I’ve got a nice piece of land in Murmansk I’d like to show you.