from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Missing the Point on Natural Gas as a Bridge Fuel

March 2, 2012

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Hardly a month seems to go by without another study that’s touted as showing that natural gas is a dead end when it comes to climate change. First there was the International Energy Agency’s “Golden Age of Gas”, which foresaw global temperatures rising by as much as five degrees centigrade.  Then there was a paper by Tom Wigley in Climatic Change Letters that was released under the banner “Switching From Coal To Gas Would Do Little For Global Climate”. The latest entry in the genre is a paper out a couple weeks ago in Environmental Research Letters, whose abstract concludes: “Conservation, wind, solar, nuclear power, and possibly carbon capture and storage appear to be able to achieve substantial climate benefits in the second half of this century; however, natural gas cannot.” One prominent climate blogger interpreted that bluntly: “Natural gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere”.

So I’ll forgive you if what I’m about to say comes as a surprise: None of these studies look at natural gas as a bridge fuel.

That’s right: Zero. Not a single one. Every one of them boosts natural gas relative to business as usual. That’s the first part of a bridge. But none of them ever phase it out – an element that’s equally integral to the bridge idea.

It turns out that if you continue to use natural gas forever, things don’t turn out very well. But that isn’t news, or at least it shouldn’t be to the intelligent folks who keep hyping the new studies.

To really understand the potential impact of natural gas as a bridge fuel, you need to look at scenarios where – this will shock you – it’s a bridge fuel. I have a paper in the works that does just that. I can’t share the results right now, but I will say that some of them surprised me. More on that to come.

P.S. I have an article out today in Foreign Policy, “The Driller In Chief”, which defends President Obama against baseless claims that he’s out to destroy oil and gas. Take a look.

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