With 2020 Democratic presidential contenders divided over whether natural gas should play any role in plans to combat the climate crisis and as the Trump administration works to rebrand the fossil fuel as “molecules of U.S. freedom,” a report released Thursday aims to debunk the prominent myth that natural gas can work as a “bridge fuel” to a clean and sustainable future.
“We simply have no more time to debate what’s already been settled. We must move swiftly to a fully renewable energy economy and leave all fossil fuels, including gas, behind.”
—Lorne Stockman, Oil Change International
“The mythology around gas being a ‘cleaner’ fossil fuel that can support the transition to clean energy goes back at least three decades,” reads the new Oil Change International (OCI) report, which will be unveiled at an event in Trenton, New Jersey, where local environmental activists are battling the expansion of climate-destroying fossil fuel infrastructure.
“Oil and gas corporations have championed and invested in this myth as a way to delay the transition away from fossil fuels,” OCI’s report states.
OCI’s analysis (pdf) notes that despite the overwhelming evidence against the view that natural gas can serve as a clean and temporary replacement for coal, “a number of politicians and decision-makers continue to repeat the myth of gas as a climate solution.”
The evidence of the deeply harmful consequences of reliance on natural gas, according to OCI, goes far beyond the leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas that is considered to be 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
While acknowledging that methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure is a serious problem, OCI argues that merely reducing methane emissions—a solution pushed by the Obama administration—would not make natural gas a climate-friendly energy source.
OCI’s report—titled “Burning the ‘Gas Bridge’ Myth: Why Gas is Not Clean, Cheap, or Necessary” (pdf)—details five reasons why natural gas cannot be part of any solution that aims to confront the climate crisis with the ambition that the latest science says is necessary to avert catastrophic warming:
- : The economically recoverable oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently producing and under-construction extraction projects would take the world far beyond safe climate limits. Further development of untapped gas reserves, including new shale wells, is inconsistent with the climate goals in the Paris Agreement. Even if global coal use were phased out overnight, already-developed reserves of oil and gas would push the world above 1.5°C of warming. There’s simply no room for more gas.
- : Climate goals require the energy sector to be decarbonized by mid-century. This means that both coal and gas must be phased out. Replacing coal plants with new gas plants will not cut emissions by nearly enough, even if methane leakage is kept to a minimum. Current plans for gas production growth drastically overshoot climate safe models and are a bridge to climate disaster.
- : The dramatic and ongoing cost declines for wind and solar disrupt the business model for gas in the power sector. Wind and solar are already cheaper to build and operate than coal and gas in most markets. Cost is clearly not a prohibitive factor to adding renewable generation capacity, whether to replace fossil fuel capacity or to meet rising demand.
- : Wind and solar require balancing, but gas is not the only, nor the best, resource available for doing so. Battery storage is fast becoming competitive with gas plants designed for this purpose (known as “peakers”). Wind and solar plants that are coupled with battery storage are also becoming a competitive “dispatchable” source of energy. Managing high levels of wind and solar on the grid requires optimizing a wide range of technologies and solutions, including battery storage, demand response, and transmission. There is no reason to favor gas as the primary solution.
- : Multibillion-dollar gas infrastructure built today is designed to operate for decades to come. Given the barriers to closing down infrastructure ahead of its expected economic lifespan, it is critical to stop building new infrastructure, the full lifetime emissions of which will not fit within Paris-aligned carbon budgets.
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