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Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Shale Gas, Natural Gas, Coal, and Petroleum

The technologies and practices that have enabled the recent boom in shale gas production have also brought attention to the environmental impacts of its use. It has been debated whether the fugitive methane emissions during natural gas production and transmission outweigh the lower carbon dioxide emissions during combustion when compared to coal and petroleum. Using the current state of knowledge of methane emissions from shale gas, conventional natural gas, coal, and petroleum, we estimated up-to-date life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, we developed distribution functions for key parameters in each pathway to examine uncertainty and identify data gaps such as methane emissions from shale gas well completions and conventional natural gas liquid unloadings that need to be further addressed. Our base case results show that shale gas life-cycle emissions are 6% lower than conventional natural gas, 23% lower than gasoline, and 33% lower than coal. However, the range in values for shale and conventional gas overlap, so there is a statistical uncertainty whether shale gas emissions are indeed lower than conventional gas. Moreover, this life-cycle analysis, among other work in this area, provides insight on critical stages that the natural gas industry and government agencies can work together on to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas.

Authors: Andrew Burnham *, Jeongwoo Han , Corrie E. Clark , Michael Wang , Jennifer B. Dunn , and Ignasi Palou-Rivera
Source: Center for Transportation Research

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