Natural gas remains widely seen as a helpful "bridge fuel" during the transition from high carbon fossil fuels to alternative, clean energy. That myth is based on end use comparisons. Natural gas power plants emit much less greenhouse gas than coal-fired power plants, ergo nat gas is cleaner.
Here's the thing. That's a lie, one repeated endlessly by the natural gas frackers/producers.
When you load a train car with coal, the coal pretty much stays there until it reaches its destination. Natural gas, by contrast, is always trying to escape and it's awfully good at getting away on us. And, once it gets away, it flees to the atmosphere to take up its new job as atmospheric methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas. From The Guardian.
As Joe Romm has detailed for Climate Progress, research indicates that shifting to natural gas squanders most of those gains. For example, a 2014 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that when natural gas production is abundant, it crowds out both coal and renewables, resulting in little if any climate benefit. Part of the problem is significant methane leakage from natural gas drilling.
...abundant gas consistently results in both less coal and renewable energy use […] the quantity of methane leaked may ultimately determine whether the overall effect is to slightly reduce or actually increase cumulative emissions […] only climate policies bring about a significant reduction in future emissions from US electricity generation … We conclude that increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.
Similarly, another 2014 study found that based on the latest estimates of methane leakage rates from natural gas drilling, replacing coal with natural gas provides little in the way of climate benefits. Though it’s been touted as a ‘bridge fuel’ to span the gap between coal and renewables, this research suggests natural gas isn’t significantly better than coal in terms of global warming effects, and thus may not be suitable for that purpose. The ‘bridge’ doesn’t appear to achieve its goal of steadily cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.
We extract a lot of natural gas and a lot of it is lost getting it out of the ground and getting it to markets. And then there's domestic natural gas, the stuff you may use for home heating, fake fireplaces, stoves and ovens, etc. That gas has to get to your home through a network of buried pipes. That's a real problem in older municipalities, such as Boston. The gas lines are old and they leak - a lot.
This image shows natural gas leaking in certain sampled parts of Boston. Vehicle-mounted sensors were taken down Boston streets recording gas leaks coming out of the roads, from sidewalks and from buildings. Those are leaks that are continuous, round the clock. Now you could rip up all the roads and all the sidewalks and all the basements and lawns and, that way, you could replace all those leaking gas lines, but, hey, you might have to raise taxes and the 1% need that money, don't they?
Those leaks are a typical fossil fuel externality. They're written off against revenues, in effect the producers get a hefty deduction for their losses. No one is assessed for the damage those leaks cause the environment, the atmosphere, living creatures on the planet. Meanwhile the industry drums in our heads that their gas is cleaner than coal.
Fortunately, as set out in the Guardian article, breakthroughs in solar power and battery storage technology and costs, are now low enough to undermine natural gas, even at its subsidized prices. Keep your fingers crossed for the natural gas lobby has many friends in high office.