Natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, such as coal. While cleaner, it is not 100 percent clean. It is composed chiefly of methane, with a few other trace gases, including propane. Natural gas has several negatives at all stages of its use, from well drilling to transportation through pipelines and finally when it is burned for energy.
Carbon Dioxide Generation
When natural gas is burned, it produces carbon dioxide. The Natural Gas Supply Association points out that 117,000 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced for every billion BTU (British Thermal Unit, a measure of heating capability) burned. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the upper atmosphere and thus is called a greenhouse gas. In 2011, carbon dioxide gas was one of the chief reasons for global warming, according to The Natural Gas Supply Association.
Marine Life Disruption
Naturally occurring natural gas seeps from the ocean floor, sometimes heavily. This disrupts marine life, according to Stanislav Patin. The effects are behavioral, such as increased excitation. Further high-level exposure leads to fish death by poisoning. Mr. Patin also notes that many gas pipelines run underwater. If these pipelines leak or rupture, the damage will be excessive.
Land Wildlife Disruption
Drilling for natural gas also disrupts the land environment. A team of Canadian researchers detailed the impact in a report on Canadian drilling activity in Alberta from 1997 to 2007. The researchers discovered that increased traffic and other drilling activities generated noise and otherwise disrupted bird populations. Two bird species, Sprague's Pipit and Baird's Sparrow, decreased in numbers, whereas Savannah Sparrow increased. The researchers stated that overall, the effects to the environment were negative.
General Population Safety
Natural gas runs through thousands of miles of pipelines. These pipes, over time, corrode and weaken. If a pipeline ruptures, the possibility is great the gas will explode. The Natural Gas Watch Organization stated that from 2006 to 2011, corroded or cracked pipes contributed to explosions in Massachusetts. In Carlsbad, New Mexico, an explosion in 2000 killed 12 people, as reported by the Suburban Energy Management Project. While the pipeline companies monitor the pipes closely, corroded pipes and human error do occur. Having flammable-gas lines running through populated areas creates a danger to the general population if the pipes are not cared for.
- The Natural Gas Supply Association: Natural Gas and the Environment
- Offshore Environment: Natural Gas in the Marine Environment
- United States Geological Survey: Abundance of three Grassland Songbirds in an Areas of Natural Gas Infill Drilling
- Natural Gas Watch Organization: Compromised Natural Gas Pipelines Contributed to at Least Two Natural Gas Explosions in Massachusetts
- Suburban Energy Management Project: Fatal Carlsbad, New Mexico, Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion, 2000: Second Worst in US History
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images