Natural Gas Industry Surprised It Could Be So Much Cleaner

The natural gas industry may be one of its own worst enemies.

Most energy executives underestimate how much they can cut emissions as they extract and transport natural gas, according to a survey by the Energy Institute. Producers can reduce greenhouse gas flows by 75 percent simply by improving practices in the supply chain of the fuel, which consists mainly of methane. About half of that can be cut at no net cost.

“Implementing just those measures that pay for themselves, by monetizing the captured methane, would have the same long-term impact on mitigating climate change as immediately shutting all existing coal-fired power plants in China,” said Christophe McGlade, an oil and gas analyst at the International Energy Agency, which contributed to the report.

Methane leaks into the air at various points between extraction and delivery. Trapping more heat than carbon dioxide, it’s a potent contributor to global warming. Yet credible information on the volumes released is scarce, and that’s spurring pressure from investors seeking to protect the climate.

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Two-thirds of the survey’s 189 respondents said they were “surprised by the scale of the possibilities” to reduce emissions.

“Much has been said about gas as a ‘transition fuel’, with a number of oil companies shifting their hydrocarbon portfolios toward gas,” said Vivienne Cox, a vice president of the Energy Institute and former executive at BP Plc. “Industry professionals tend to underestimate the need to decarbonize gas if the Paris climate commitments are to be met.”

The Energy Institute is hosting International Petroleum Week in London this week, a three-day gathering for the global oil and gas industry.

Almost half of the gas industry is failing to do anything about carbon capture and storage, even though that technology is seen as the most effective way to reduce emissions from consumption of the fuel, the survey showed. About a quarter of those surveyed supported CCS research and a similar portion were in favor of large-scale pilot projects.

CCS is needed to meet targets in the Paris climate deal to keep temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), according to Oslo-based Cicero, which provides research on climate action to investors.

40 percent of respondents in survey said gas would continue to play a minor role in the transport industry through 2050; 30 percent said gas would provide a significant proportion of transport fuel; 26 percent said gas would provide significant proportion of transport fuel as source for hydrogen; 4 percent said gas as a transport fuel would be phased out entirely.

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