A key assumption behind proposals to reduce greenhouse emissions is that natural gas was far cleaner than either oil or coal. Coal was considered the worst offender. A new study by David R. Atkinson, Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University, throws that assumption into question. "Using the best available science, we conclude that natural gas is no better than coal and may in fact be worse than coal in terms of its greenhouse gas footprint when evaluated over the time course of the next several decades."
The big culprits, according to Atkinson, are the indirect emissions of CO2 necessary to develop and use natural gas and "fugitive emissions of methane, converted to equivalent value of CO2 for global warming potential assuming a 20-year time horizon."
Nov 15, 2010
See also this Jan. 5, 2011 piece by Gail Tverberg ("Natural Gas: Continually Running into New Obstacles") which reports on an EPA interim report suggesting that natural gas leakage is much greater than previously estimated. Based on this tentative analysis, natural gas emissions average 3.25% of natural gas production. "At this level," according to David Lewis of the Energy Collective, "the impact of natural gas would be similar to coal."
Jan. 25, 2011: Also reporting on the new EPA study is this analysis at ProPublica.org.
February 1, 2011: This New York Times summary--"It's Not Easy Being Green"-- has more on the controversy sparked by the EPA and ProPublica reports.