Environment wastes emitted particularly from burning of fossil fuels has caused many pressing environmental concerns. Natural gas emits small amounts of harmful chemicals in air making it preferable to other sources of energy. Given that it is essential to economic growth, its use may also have some environmental ramifications.
The natural gas industry is central to the American economy. It supports more than 4 million jobs and makes an important contribution to the import sector. In 2007, natural gas industry contributed more than $385 billion to the American economy.
Environment and Public Health
Unlike conventional gasoline and diesel, natural gas produces little amounts of hazardous emissions such as nitrogen oxides, carcinogenic and toxic pollutants, greenhouse gases and carbon monoxide. Since it burns more cleanly than the other fossil fuels, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers natural gas as one of the cleanest vehicle fuels. It is also lighter than air and, in case of leakage, will tend to dissipate, making it the best alternative transportation fuel.
Methane in Natural Gas
Natural gas is highly combustible because of the high percentage of methane. Therefore, there are high risks that methane explosions occur when extracting and using this gas. Methane competes with oxygen supply, and inhaling large amounts can be dangerous. In addition, it is odorless and colorless, which makes the detection of natural gas very difficult.
Treatment Plants and Delivery
Complex treatment plants and pipelines transport are required for safe delivery of natural gas. Pipelines for transporting the gas from treatment plants are laid underground and frequently checked for leakages to ensure safety of consumers. However, this increases the maintenance cost of the pipelines. Furthermore, if not well treated in the processing plants, natural gas tends to be very poisonous to the exposed populace.
Natural gas occupies a large space, nearly four times the space of gasoline equivalent energy. Because it is a natural resource, it should be cheap, but the additional cost in transportation, storage and processing makes it an expensive fuel.
The process of hydraulic fracturing and drilling in aquifers of the Utica and Marcellus shale formations in upstate New York and northeastern Pennsylvania has increased methane contamination of water supplies. This occurs when fracturing fluid is discharged to shallow aquifers because of the high pressure induced by the fracturing fluids when extracting natural gas. This process results in toxic chemicals (methane concentrations) percolating into drinking water supplies, and affecting the people’s health.