So, a Washington-based lobby group called the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas has come out with a study that analyses the lifecycle emissions of LNG versus coal. The aim of the study is to make sure U.S. legislators “know the truth” about clean-burning LNG as they consider climate-change legislation. Their conclusion — surprise, surprise — is that LNG for power generation contributes, on an apples-to-apples basis, about 70 per cent less greenhouse-gas emissions compared to even the cleanest coal technologies. Put another way, they say that an existing coal power plant in the United States produces two and a half times more greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable LNG power plant.
That sounds, well…. completely unbelievable.
Now, there’s no doubt coal is bad, bad, bad. But I have a problem with LNG — or natural gas in general — being characterized as a climate-change saviour. The fact that an LNG lobby group is making such claims should be enough cause for suspicion. As recently as 2007, a Carnegie Mellon University study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, concluded from its own lifecycle analysis that there’s not a huge difference — if any — between the carbon footprint of LNG (or synthetic natural gas, or SNG) and coal when the fuels are used for power generation. Sure, if we’re just talking combustion, then coal emissions are definitely 2 to 2.5 times greater. But when you factor in upstream emissions related to exploration, extraction, transportation, LNG conversion, etc. then the mining and transportation of coal has a much lower carbon footprint. Fugutive emissions alone are a huge concern.
Based on this finding, the Carnegie study concluded: “It is important to re-evaluate whether investing billions of dollars in LNG/SNG infrastructure will lock us into an undesirable energy path that could make future energy decisions costlier and increase the environmental burden from our energy infrastructure.”
Not sure how exactly the Centre for Liquefied Natural Gas study came to its dramatically different conclusion. The contrast between these two studies alone is reason enough to be cautious about LNG infrastructure investments.