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Natural gas poses negligible danger to climate

Sunday, January 20, 2013
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Forest Byrd/For The Sunday Gazette
Forest Byrd/For The Sunday Gazette

A Jan. 8 letter to the editor raised more fears than facts concerning natural gas development in New York state. The writer tried to separate shale natural gas from other sources of natural gas, suggesting that shale gas is inferior or bad to produce.

This simply is not true. All natural gas is composed of a family of naturally occurring carbon and hydrogen molecules. All gas fields are somewhat different. Some fields produce an abundance of large-molecule components, such as propane and butane. Such fields produce a natural, low-octane gasoline, ranging up to 80 barrels per million cubic feet of gas production.

Some natural gas fields (primarily in Kansas) produce the very valuable helium gas, used in the space and medical industries. Other fields produce almost all methane with no liquid components. The reservoir rock, whether sandstone, limestone or shale, is immaterial.

The writer’s distaste for energy production is seen in his attempt to use academic research showing that loss of natural gas from the well to the consumer contributes to climate change. This is grasping at straws in making the case that modern energy development significantly contributes to the issue of climate change.

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History of development

A brief history of oil and gas development is in order. Abundant and inexpensive oil development began in the latter part of the 19th century. Much waste occurred following initial development. Natural gas was flared or vented into the atmosphere as an unwanted byproduct of oil production. Saltwater, another unwanted byproduct, was simply directed into the nearest stream.

Rules governing well spacing, well development and saltwater disposal were not enacted for 75 years following the first oil well in western Pennsylvania in 1859. New York did not develop rules for oil and gas development until the 1960s, nearly a hundred years after the initial discoveries. Waste and pollution of groundwater were incalculable during this period.

Those hectic days are long gone.

No longer is natural gas a waste product, but a very important component of the nation’s energy needs. Natural gas today is highly regulated and efficiently transported from the well source to the consumer. There are approximately 1.5 million miles of gas pipelines throughout the country delivering this low carbon footprint, inexpensive fuel to countless consumers.

It is a very rare event when a problem occurs resulting in a significant release of natural gas. Perhaps the frequency of such accidents in the fossil-fuel industry can be compared to a building or bridge collapse or an airliner disaster.

Providing information

I do not expect to convince anyone who sincerely believes that energy development is a real threat to groundwater resources. My writings are directed to the many who do not know the facts and would like information to form an opinion.

I have noted that those opposed to energy development have shifted their attacks from groundwater pollution to a discussion of climate change.

For example, a professor at Cornell is suggesting that natural gas production should be of greater concern than carbon dioxide (CO2) production, which seems to have a primary focus in the climate-change discussion.

Here are some fast facts about the four major greenhouse gases:

• Water vapor (H2O) accounts for 36-70 percent of greenhouse gases

• Carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for 9-26 percent

• Methane (CH4) accounts for 4-9 percent

• Ozone (O3) accounts for 3-7 percent

We are being told that methane gas is 40 to 72 times more potent in the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide. So be it — I will not argue the science. But we are not being told that methane emissions from the Arctic permafrost is about one half of all methane emissions worldwide.

This is an important understanding! Now, we can conclude that minor and unintentional release of natural gas has no significant impact on climate-change projections and should not be used in the argument to prevent natural gas development.

Russ Wege, a retired engineer, lives in Glenville. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

 
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comments

January 20, 2013
10:33 p.m.
Newsworthy says...

With due respect, Mr. Wege is pushing the same old line. You don't have to possess an engineering degree to see that hydro-fracking is environmentally dangerous, as is conventional drilling. The real dangers represented by the energy industry's continued denials lie in the pollution from burning the natural gas and oil, and from the "kick the can down the road" mentality.
The industry's own ads mention enough oil and gas reserves to last 100 years. Apparently, we are expected to burn these fuels frivolously and leave our great-grandchildren to deal with the problem of exhausted energy resources.
A serious energy engineer would be working on solar, wind and hydro-electric energy use. There is more than enough such energy for all the world's needs, but at this point, the technology to use it efficiently is under-developed. The really cool factor of these energy sources is that, besides being non-polluting, they will never be exhausted! Instead of proposing arguments supporting obsolete technology, Mr. Wege should consider supporting technology that is appropriate for the future, not just for the profits of oil and gas companies.

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