Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Well head after all the hydraulic fracturing equipment has been taken off location. (Photo: Joshua Doubek/CC)

Study: Natural Gas Expansion Will Raise Emissions, Worsen Climate

Increased reliance on so-called 'bridge fuel' will worsen climate crisis by delaying shift to carbon-free renewable energy, research warns

Sarah Lazare

A national shift to natural gas for power generation is no panacea for the climate crisis, new research finds.

In fact the study, published on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, finds that treating natural gas as a so-called "bridge fuel" could actually make global warming worse by delaying the shift to carbon-free, renewable energy sources.

"The oil and gas industry is trying to use the climate crisis as a way to promote natural gas. And the Obama administration is going along with this strategy." —Wenonah Hauter, Food and Water Watch

The study was undertaken by researchers from the University of California, Irvine and Stanford University and funded by the nonprofit organization Near Zero. The scientists asked experts for their estimates of natural gas supply curves, explained Dr. Christine Shearer, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California-Irvine, in a video abstract of the article. The researchers then input this data into an energy economic model to assess different future scenarios of natural gas production against varying potential climate policies, including: no climate policy, a moderate tax on carbon, and a "stringent" tax on carbon.

"We found that the increased use of natural gas for electricity will not significantly lower emissions, because gas competes not just with coal, but also with lower carbon sources of electricity such as renewables," said Shearer. "If we want to lower emissions and decarbonize the electricity sector, our studies and others suggest we need a price or cap on carbon."

In the video, Shearer concludes that "the biggest driver of emissions reductions" is the strength of the climate policies put in place.

The study adds to the growing pile of evidence against the powerful natural gas and fracking industry, which has sought to cast natural gas as a lower-carbon and climate-friendly option because its carbon footprint per unit of energy is lower than that of coal. In fact, a 2011 study by researchers at Cornell University showed that emissions from fracked natural gas may be equal to or even higher than emissions from coal, due in part to methane leaks.

In a report released earlier this month, the non-profit Food and Water Watch warned that fracking not only destabilizes the climate but also devastates communities near fracking sites who suffer cancer and disease from water and air pollution.

Wednesday's study came on the heels of the historic People's Climate March in New York City, where natural gas extraction was a big concern among participating people and organizations.

"The oil and gas industry is trying to use the climate crisis as a way to promote natural gas," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, told Common Dreams while marching on Sunday. "And the Obama administration is going along with this strategy."

"So we're here to tell the Obama administration that building a fleet of liquified natural gas facilities around the perimeter of the nation and exporting natural gas shows real hypocrisy. If we want to deal with climate change, we have to deal with the methane issue. We have to move aggressively into a renewable and efficient energy future. And we have to stop, in the public interest community, promoting natural gas as a solution. It is not a solution. The solution is to build the political will to really take on these issues."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·


Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·


'We Can Do Better' Than Biden's Paltry Student Debt Relief Plan, Says AOC

The president's approach, said the New York Democrat, is "just enough to anger the people against it *and* the people who need forgiveness the most."

Julia Conley ·


Right-Wing Supreme Court Poised to Make US Gun Carnage Even Worse

The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority could soon "obliterate even the mildest of gun regulations in service of its gun lobby masters."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Enough Is Enough!': Thousands Protest Outside NRA Convention in Texas

"I'm just tired of the NRA subordinating children's rights for gun rights," said one gun lobby opponent just three days after the school massacre in Uvalde.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo