Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

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.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Hold My Pearls': Debbie Dingell Lets Marjorie Taylor Green Have It Over Abortion Rights

The Michigan Democrat engaged in a verbal altercation with the far-right Republican lawmaker from Georgia on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Jon Queally ·

Cisneros Slams Cuellar for Being Only House Democrat to Vote Against Abortion Rights

"Once again Henry Cuellar refused to stand up for South Texans' reproductive freedom."

Jake Johnson ·

Covid-19 Cases, Deaths Rising Among Children Across US

"Is there an acceptable pediatric body count?" asked a top pediatrician in New Orleans this week. "I think not."

Julia Conley ·

Senate Filibuster Final Obstacle After House Dems Pass 'Historic' Abortion Rights Bill

"This is a moment of crisis," said one activist. "We cannot allow the filibuster, or anything else, to stand in the way of safeguarding our fundamental freedoms."

Jessica Corbett ·

Water Protectors Challenge Minnesota AG Keith Ellison's Silence on Line 3 Pipeline

"What is your plan?" one demonstrator asked while interrupting a speech by Ellison. "Are you going to take a stand?"

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo