In recent years, natural gas has been touted to be one of the fast-growing fossil fuels. Today, it accounts for over 23% of the world’s primary and most demanded form of energy, and almost a quarter is used for generating electric power (Brehm, 2019). Being the cleanest burning fossil fuels, natural gas provides a plethora of environmental benefits, unlike other forms – gasoline and oil – which affect air quality and contribute to high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Besides, its operational flexibility, coupled with the fact that it can be stored for longer periods without losing value, means natural gas can easily respond to demand fluctuations – short-term and seasonal. This ensures there is enhanced electricity supply security in electric power systems. Recent market research shows that natural gas markets have become globalized (Paltsev et al., 2011). The primary reason for this can be attributed to the availability of shale gas and the increased supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Thus, as the markets for natural gas go global, so does the interconnection between these markets, resulting in the creation of new dimensions and facets of natural gas commodities. Given the increased market globalization, supply, or demand shocks, in one market or region will have repercussions on other markets or regions.
International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that 2018 was an outstanding year for natural gas. With an increased 4.6% consumption, natural gas accounted for almost half of global energy demanded. The current market outlook shows that global consumption of natural gases it at an all-time high, and demand continues to increase. Besides, since 2010, there has been a huge growth of natural gas in three regions – the USA, China, and the Middle East (Bilgin, 2011). In the US, this growth has been accelerated by the revolution of shale gas production. In China, the growth of natural gas consumption is attributed to increased concerns for air quality and massive economic expansion. In the Middle East – Saudi Arabia and Iran – natural gas has been termed as the gateway to the economic diversification of the region’s gold liquid in “oil.” In Sustainable Development and Stated Policies scenarios, this commodity has notably outperformed oil and coal, underlining a more broad-based growth in the next decades.
The current market outlook of natural gas has massively evolved in the US over the last decade. The growing pressure has been driven by two important developments – advancements made in the LNG markets and revolution of shale production. Notably, the revolution of shale gas production has skyrocketed natural gas production in the US by over 50% in the last decade (Rogers, 2011). This can be attributed to economically feasible mining of high amounts of oil and natural gas deposits in numerous geologic regions across the US. Today, the Department of Energy reports that the US produces and consumes natural gas at all-time levels. With it is an array of economic benefits to expand and enhance industrial and trade competition, whilst shifting the electric power mix. Therefore, with the accrued benefits, they can bring more environmental benefits to the nation.
The growth of natural gas being produced has outpaced the growth of natural gas being consumed in the US. As a result, the US is well-positioned to be a top-leading exporter of the commodity in the coming years. This rapid growth of high levels of exportable natural gas is attributable to significant developments in the LNG industry (Chandra, 2017). The US can now ship the gas at global markets at highly competitive rates and challenge over-dependence on pipeline LNG. Augmented by these advancements, the US exports are projected to double by 2025, making the country a leader in exporting gas in global markets.
Moreover, the increased exports of LNG are set to be a major force in developing global liquid and integrated gas markets. This will further support the opportunities for the gas to enhance energy security, eradicate local pollution (to address climate changes and global warming concerns), offer better energy accessibility to third world countries, and, more importantly, bring new economic benefits and opportunities to the global economies. Despite these developments, natural gas faces huge challenges in numerous markets, such as environmental and commercial obstacles.
Formation of Natural Gas
Like any other fossil fuel such as oil, natural gas is primarily formed by decomposed organic matter. These are materials from millions of marine micro-organisms that have decomposed for over 550 million years (Ouar, 2002). When these materials are mixed with silt, sand, and mud, they are buried over millions of years. They are exposed to extremely high levels of pressure and heat, and since they are sealed in an environment without oxygen, they are broken down into hydrocarbons through thermal reactions. Usually, they exist in a gaseous state under normal conditions. Amongst its physical properties, natural gas is colorless and odorless. Since it is composed of methane (CH4), it is highly flammable. The formation of natural gas is influenced by two vital features. One of these features is porosity – empty space between rocks. Natural gas is plentiful in highly porous rocks and can occupy large spaces. The other feature is permeability – the interconnection of pore spaces in rocks. Like porous rocks, highly permeable rocks allow the occupation of large amounts of gas. Natural gas has relatively low density; hence, after being formed, it rises towards the earth’s surface. Fig 1 shows where natural gas is obtained underneath the earth’s surface.
Figure 1: Formation of Natural Gas
Source: EIA (2010)
Natural gas deposits can be either conventional or unconventional. With the conventional deposits, it is mixed with oil. In contrast, the unconventional deposits consist of shale gas (predominantly in the US) and coal-bed methane.
Resources and Reserves
EIA indicates that the US is massively bestowed with substantial natural gas resources. Over the last few years, there have been massive discoveries and advancements made in drilling approaches to extract the product and estimates have skyrocketed ever since. For instance, in 2009, EIA projected that the US has over 2.3 trillion ft3 capable of being drilled and extracted using available modern technology. According to EIA estimates, conventional deposits represent 46% or 1000 trillion ft3 ,while 54% represent unconventional resources including shale gas. From the overall gas resource in the US, 270 trillion ft3 of natural gas has been classified as reserves. That means, this amount can be extracted under the current operation as well as economic circumstances. Globally, Russia is a leader regarding amounts of gas reserves – five times the US reserves. Qatar and Iran have large amounts of reserves, 750 trillion ft3 and 1000 trillion ft3, respectively (Vidas & Hugman, 2008). Other countries with significant reserves include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Nigeria.
Production of Shale Gas and Other Unconventional Resources
Despite years of extracting and using natural gas, estimates by EIA show that the size of this resource has massively increased over the last three decades. This can be attributed to the increased feasibility of its extraction from unconventional resources. Amongst the unconventional deposits, shale gas occupies the largest space (Andrews, 2010). Other sources include tight gas and methane hydrates, which are more complex to exploit or extract. With these massive resources, the US is most likely positioned to close a gap between its production and consumption. However, their production poses greater problems to the environment, particularly, pollutions from emissions. Currently, EIA projects that over 170 trillion ft3 out of 2,200 trillion ft3 are to be reserves with shale gas being top of the chart (Sakmar, 2018). Today, shale gas has been dubbed as the most growing natural gas resource in the US. Advanced technological methods have made it easier to drill and extract the gas. For instance, modern horizontal drilling tech ensures that a single well can allow passage of high amounts of shale gas reservoir; thus, there is increased large volumes of gas being produced.
Moreover, the availability of hydrofracturing technology (fracking) has enhanced the accessibility of shale gas. It is a technique that necessitates injections of high amounts of a mixture of water, sand, and chemical fluids into the wells at extremely high pressures to break rocks, increase permeability, and accessibility to gas deposits (Loh & Loh, 2016). Added to these technological advancements are the prices of the gas, which have offered more incentives to boost extraction and production of the gas. As of 2012, EIA reported 39% of the natural gas reserve to be shale gas. Most shale deposits can be found in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana (Coughlin & Arthur, 2013). However, there are shale gas deposits throughout all states in the US, most where there are conventional sources.
Processing and Transportation of Natural Gas
Even in the early days of exploring petroleum products, natural gas was not deemed useful, usable, or beneficial because it was difficult to transport it to the markets. Thus, it was either burned or released into the atmosphere. Even today, in areas where there is a lack of infrastructure to transport the gas, it is flared and vented into the atmosphere.
In 2010, the World Bank cited that over 5,300 trillion ft3 of natural gas was being flared yearly (Soeder et al., 2010). This represented close to 25% of the overall consumption of gas in the US. The other 75% consists of countries that do not possess technology or infrastructure to process or transport the gas. As the production of natural gas continues to grow in the US, so does the flaring of natural gas, especially in places such as North Dakota. Although most of the gas being used largely contains methane, raw natural gas also has other substances. These substances may include CO2, hydrogen, water vapor, and other gaseous hydrocarbons; hence, it must be processed to make it feasible for use. Processing is done to ensure the gas is 100% methane, and byproducts are eliminated and disposed of as waste materials.
Today, the US has the broadest and most complicated network of pipelines used in transporting processed gas from production facilities to end-users (homes and factories). The first major pipeline system in the US was constructed in 1891 to transport gas from Indiana to Chicago. After World War II to the 1960s, there was a rapid increase in pipeline systems and networks that continues to grow to this day (Gordon, 2012). Currently, pipeline systems transport 98% of natural gas in the US. Because methane is highly flammable, the entire transportation system, which is from production facilities to end-users, can be extremely dangerous and pose environmental, health, and safety concerns. Thus, the PHMSA has the authority to regulate pipeline systems, as well as track leaks and injuries associated with accidents across the US. Between 2007 – 2013, there has been a significant increase in safety incidents (over 370) associated with transmission systems. These incidents were hugely caused by factors such as flooding, corrosion, and leakages. These incidents resulted in 10 deaths and over 80 injuries. In the same period, there were other significant incidents – almost 311 – due to excavation damages, which resulted in 40 deaths and over 220 injuries. Apart from safety concerns, leakages of transmission systems also pose environmental challenges such as global warming emissions. In research conducted in 2012, over 3000 leaks were discovered in Boston in pipeline systems under the streets (McKenna, 2011). Methane leaks foil plans for a green future. The study concluded that an increased number of leakages was attributable to aged distribution equipment.
With 95% methane, natural gas is a clean-burning and resourceful fuel that can be used in a variety of applications. In the late 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, gas was primarily used as a source of light to streets and buildings. Today, its uses have increased due to massive distribution systems. It can now be used at homes, factory and power plants, and business entities.
Figure 2: Natural Gas Consumption by Sector in the US in 2012
For example, in 2011- 12, the US used more than 24 trillion ft3 of natural gas, which represented over 30% of overall energy use and an equivalent to overall over 200 billion of gas gallons. In 2017 –18, the US used more than 27 trillion ft3 of gas (See Fig 3). This consumption was mainly used in industrial and power-generating sectors. In the last decade, consumption has significantly outpaced gas production.
Figure 3: Natural Gas Consumption in the US 2018
The EIA estimates a 50% increase in global use of gas between 2020 – 2035. Developing economies such as China, India, and Brazil are seen to be the key drivers of increased demand in this period.
Demand and Market Geopolitics
While a natural gas place in the energy sector has been overlooked for decades, the recent campaign on clean energy has led to a rapid shift from the traditional sources of energy such as coal and oil, which are not environmentally friendly to natural gas. Consequently, more people and industries are embracing natural gas energy. Currently, the electric power sector consumes around 30% of the total natural gas used in the U.S. annually (Chen et al., 2019). In a world where people are moving away from carbon dioxide emitting sources of energy, the demand for clean energy has significantly increased the demand for natural gas, especially in the power sector. Nonetheless, the end-user demand for natural gas has risen drastically in the past few years. Today, 35% and 32% of natural gas are used in residential and commercial and industrial sectors respectively.
In the coming years, the demand for natural gas in the U.S. energy system will be influenced by various factors, including: greenhouse gas mitigation policy; size of gas resources; technological development; and global market developments. These factors will shape the future of gas in the US in terms of production and trade. Firstly, the country’s policy concerning the greenhouse effect will influence the extent to which power plants and end-users use cleaner energy, natural gas, instead of other CO2 emitting products. For instance, if the U.S. enforces its current plan to reduce CO2 emission by 50% by 2050, natural gas will become the primary source of energy; thus, increasing its demand and production accordingly. On the other side, if the US were to be lenient on implementing the GHG mitigation policy, the other fossil fuels will remain the primary sources of energy, which will lead to stagnation or even decline in demand for natural gas. Technology is another determinant of natural gas’ demand in the coming years. Advancement in technology is enhancing more efficient and effective exploration, production, and distribution of the gas, hence ensuring adequate supplies of the gas in the country. The availability of the gas at a relatively low-cost will significantly increase its demand in the United States as more end-users will prefer it to other sources of energy (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011).
Although the US has a comparatively robust natural gas infrastructure, including transmission lines, storage sites, numerous gas-gathering systems, LNG import terminals, and distribution pipelines, in some cases, these facilities are overwhelmed by the changing market demands. For example, the shift of natural gas supply from offshore to onshore is a challenging change they have implemented. For this reason, the United States has focused on forming long term cooperation with the private sector with the aim of ensuring effective sharing of important information and experience regarding natural gas in the country. Also, the government seeks to regulate the environmental performance of shale gas production through extensive research.
Further, the government is committing more funds to programs dedicated to exploration, production, transportation, and use of natural gas. DOE, R&E, and other similar bodies are receiving billions of dollars from the government each year to facilitate research on the basic science governing shale formations. Such understanding will help in developing more accurate simulation tools, imaging tools, and reservoir models for characterizing the geochemical, geologic, and geophysical shale features, therefore, making shale exploration more precise ( Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011). Also, the government funds research, development, and demonstration with the aim of reducing their environmental footprint resulting from production, delivery, and use of natural gas. Second, their further goals are to improve safety and efficiency during operations, and third, expand the use of the current public policies concerning natural gas, such as diminished oil dependence and emissions restrictions.
The Roles of Natural Gas in the United States
The ever-increasing production of natural gas in the US has been remarkable over the last few years. For instance, the production of shale gas has risen from nothing to account for over 50% of current natural gas produced locally. In the early phases of the shale revolution, there were concerns about environmental impacts. There was also constant and stiff opposition from the policymakers, local people, firms, and experts questioning whether extraction approaches used in developing gas reserves were permanent or temporary. Ten years on, these concerns still exist on whether the US has the capabilities and resources to sustain the high production of shale gas. However, these issues have been treated as a pivotal issue. The government and stakeholders involved have committed massive resources towards the production of natural gas and revised concerns upwards. There has been tremendous technological progress contributing to the reduction of structural costs, coupled with increased levels of related gas production, and the US has revised its projections for natural gas production.
Figure 4: Production of Shale Gas in the US\
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration data (October 2018)
The reality of this new production level has had far-reaching consequences for gas markets, not only in the US but also in several regions in North America. The new gas (shale gas) has brought a plethora of economic benefits. For example, it is improving the industrial and trade competitiveness of US sectors. It has also reduced pollution and emissions significantly. Going forward, the country edges to the role of the leading exporter of this commodity. Hence, it should prepare for an array of implications to sustain the growing production, and that will be caused by potential strategic advantages or disadvantages for high production levels of the gas.
Figure 5: Production and Consumption of Natural Gas in the United States (2005 – 2017)
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration data (October 2018)
The Department of Energy indicates that the increased production of natural gas has brought economic and environmental benefits. As the growth for natural gas production increases, so does the consumption. Ideally, natural gas is a low-cost means of energy compared to other forms; hence, the increased availability of cheaper gas has certainly reduced electric power emissions.
Figure 6: Estimates by EIA on the Production and Consumption of Natural Gas in the US
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration data (October 2018)
Environmental Policies and Regulations
The environmental policies and regulations developed to reduce water and air pollution and gas emissions have led to a decline of aged coal-fired power plants. For instance, in 2015, 14% (nearly 43 GW) of coal-fired factories were shut down. Coal alone contributed to 80% of 19 GW of grounded power generating capacity. Some of these groundings came as a result of environmental policies and regulations developed by local, state, and federal governments. As such, it is evident that environmental policies have played a key role in boosting the competitiveness of gas in the last decade and coming years in the gas markets. Since the most prominent approach to determine the current state of gas being consumed is to explore the relative supply of gas, environmental policies have had massive impacts on the levels of gas being used. For instance, taking an example of forecasts of gas consumed under Clean Power Plan – a policy developed to control and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions – it is projected that power generated by natural gas is almost the double of that generated by coal in the next two decades. Fig 3 shows that the consumption of coal is declining, while natural gas is increasing. EIA reports that by 2040, production and consumption of natural gas will be more than double of coal power generated at the same period.
Figure 7: United States Electricity by Energy Source (2010 – 2020)
Source: EIA (2019)
However, currently, environmental regulations have become more uncertain rather than a force for driving the demand for gas. That is because CPP is still under review due to legal obstacles filed by 24 states as well as numerous industry groups. Besides, in the last quarter of 2019, Trump’s government promised to revisit and propose a new rule that will revise certain environmental policies impacting upstream parts of gas and coal sectors. Furthermore, there is more uncertainty and fear that these environmental policies could dampen due to political interference and potentially affecting the progress made to shift to gas power generation in the US. Even without environmental regulations, the share of power generated by coal-fired plants is estimated to follow a negative trend from 2020-onwards. Typically, coal has high contents of carbon dioxide compared to natural gas. This price on carbon and its negative impacts on the environment could signal far-reaching effects on the prices of coal compared to those of gas. Besides, although some existing coal factories may continue running for some time, advancements in LNG markets and high technology employed to manufacture natural gas will push them out of the market. At some point in the future, these economic and environmental costs will continue to increase and cause a decline of coal-generated power, while renewables and natural gas production grow to replace closing coal plants.
Producing and consuming energy account for the highest percentage of air pollution that arises from anthropogenic activities. However, production and use of natural gas have demonstrated to produce less CO2, sO2, NOx, and PM emission compared to oil and coal combustion. Statistics on pollution show that in 2016 coal production and combustion produced over 45% of CO2 emissions in the US. This was more than natural gas produced and combusted at the same amounts. On a global scale, coal also accounts for nearly 50% of SO2 and 95% of PM emissions. Thus, it is evident that the use of natural gas is not only important for economic reasons but also a long-term solution to eradicate emissions and improve air quality. The US can serve as a good example of this point.
Figure 8: Environmental Impact of Coal Plants vs. CCGT
Source: Statoil (2018)
The augmented usage of natural gas to generate power following the early production of shale gas has contributed to a reduction in the use of coal by nearly 30% since 2005. This increase has been a sole driver in reducing energy-related CO2 emissions in the US. Besides, increased use of this gas has played a huge role in backing up renewable energy used in generating power. Therefore, it has contributed to enhancing energy security and reducing emissions.
The availability of gas provides massive opportunities to reduce emissions, not only in power generating plants but also in other sectors of the US economy. For example, natural gas is a safer, more reliable, and most flexible energy source. Thus, it is more suitable for commercial and residential areas. Coalescing natural gas with contemporary gas boilers makes the gas more efficient and low-emission energy source. The industrial sector is heavily reliant on gas to produce petrochemical. Access and consumption of natural gas can mitigate this overreliance on high carbon-producing sources of energy, such as coal. Similarly, in the transportation sector, gas is cheaper and a clean energy source alternative to oil or disease. Therefore, the use of gas has begun a new era where its applications are beginning to surge, especially in road transport. Particularly, the increased use of compressed gas and LNG in cars and shipping transport is set to benefit more on the use of natural gas.
Increasing Demand of Natural Gas due to Environmental Standards
Electric power generation, exports, and industrial consumption are three key factors that have contributed to the increased demand for natural gas. Statoil indicates that the current demand for natural gas will double by 2030. Figure 5 shows the projections of natural gas demand (2013 – 2030).
Figure 9: Projections of Natural Gas Demand (2013 – 2030)
Source: Quadrennial Energy Review Analysis
Generation of Gas-Fired Power
According to the economics of electric power markets, the prices of gasoline rapidly changed due to technological advancement in both manufactures of efficient vehicles and oil extraction techniques. These changes have caused massive changes in the demand and supply of gasoline. These changes have significantly altered the demand and supply curve(s), resulting in an overall impact on the global equilibrium price of gasoline. The demand and supply curve can be referred to as a relationship between the quantity and price of a good or service. Using these curves, the equilibrium price of a product can be determined at the point where demand and supply intersect. The availability of natural gas and increased manufacturing of efficient automobiles that use less fuel have led to the demand for gasoline to reduce significantly. The decline in demand will lead to an increased supply of gasoline in the market, altering the equilibrium price. This is because less gasoline is demanded to cause their prices to fluctuate or decrease. Besides, increased demand for fuel-efficient, hybrid, and electric automobiles has caused the demand curve for gasoline demanded to reduce. Consequently, the supply curve for gasoline in the market will increase. As a result, the demand and supply curve(s) will intersect at below the equilibrium price, resulting in surplus gasoline in the market. Moreover, reduced costs of gasoline will result in an increased supply of fuels in the market. The increase in supply will cause the supply curve to move to the right side. The decreased costs of gasoline production inputs will increase the supply of fuels in the market. The increased supply, in turn, causes a reduction in demand for gasoline, ceteris paribus.
The decrease in demand for oil (gasoline) has seen an increase in demand for natural gas locally. Comparatively, the prices of oil and natural gas have changed in power markets. The increase of natural gas has encouraged environmental standards. The federal, state, and local governments continue to champion and encourage people to switch from fuels that emit greenhouse gases to renewables and natural gas. Prices of natural gas are relatively low to encourage people to migrate from using fuels to natural gas, thereby increasing the demand for natural gas.
Industrial Gas Consumption
Natural gas consumed in the industrial sector is at an all-time high due to the availability of the gas, its reliability, and cost-effectiveness between 2013 to 2019. As the investors seek to capitalize on low prices for natural gas, so makes the demand for the gas. Industrial demand growth has a huge potential to consume more than 3.1 Bcf/d before the end of this decade. Like LNG exports, gas demand will unlikely be affected by seasonal variations that influence the demand of other sources of energy. For instance, in Texas and Southeast parts of the country where the production of natural gas is high, industrial activities have increased to take advantage of low-price gas. At the end of 2019, more than 400 new projects were announced and will commence in this decade. As such, these projects will demand more natural gas and will account for 6 Bcf/d. Although some of those projects may not be completed, they still account for increased demand for gas consumption.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Carbon and Methane
Anthropogenic pollution has been hotly debated, especially the effects caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The average earth temperatures remained below 0.75 C (1.4 F) for the last centuries. However, the current temperatures have massively increased to 1.8F in the last 100 years. Since the 20th century, atmospheric levels of gases such as carbon (IV) oxide and methane, commonly referred to as greenhouse gases, have enormously increased (Riebeek). The emission of greenhouse gases has been directly linked with human activities. This debate concerning anthropogenic pollution has invited hot debate because it is caused by activities directly linked with operations carried out by human beings.
The increase in the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and CH4, cloudiness, and aerosols are a result of human activities. For instance, the burning of fossil fuels has been termed as a key contributor to emitted high levels of CO2 to the atmosphere. The increased release of these gases has a severe impact on climatic change, which results in more unpredicted droughts, a rise in sea levels, and high and very strong storms. Additionally, they contend that there is a need to address the issue of anthropogenic global warming to prevent a change in climatic patterns. Atmospheric levels of CO2, CH4, and NO2 began to increase in the last two centuries. For instance, the concentration of carbon dioxide has massively increased to 396 parts per million (ppm) in 2013 compared to 280ppm in 1800.
An enormous amount of CO2 has continued to rise due to human-induced activities that emit CO2 from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and the manufacturing of cement. These activities have altered the air composition balance, adding more and more CO2 to the atmosphere. The added CO2 is much faster than the one absorbed by ocean bodies and land biosphere. In the last fifty years, about 25% of the released CO2 was absorbed by ocean bodies, making the water more acidic (The Carbon Cycle). Additionally, 30% of the emitted CO2 was absorbed by the land biosphere. The remaining 45% of the emitted CO2 is left to accumulate in the atmosphere.
The most dominating cause of the rise of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is a result of the combustion of fossil fuels. The combustion of the fuels is nearly twice due to their increased demand for use in economic activities and energy production growth. CO2 emitted as a result of burning fossil fuels has steadily increased over the years, increasing its concentration in the atmosphere. Therefore, it is evident that human activities that result in the high emission of greenhouse gases such as CH4, NO2, and CO2 subsequently increase the atmospheric temperatures, causing changes in climate.
The increase in atmospheric temperatures results in air pollution that damages ground-level ozone. The more the ozone level becomes warm, the warmer the earth atmosphere becomes. Additionally, the air becomes dirtier and more difficult to breathe. Global warming does affect not only humans but also wildlife. A report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that most water animals are changing their geographical locations to cooler areas in the attempt of escaping warming (Rubenstein). There is also the risk of an increase in wildlife extinction rates as a result of climatic change. Also, there is a risk of more acidic water bodies. With acidic rains due to the high concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, most water bodies are becoming acidic. An increase in acidic content in water will pose a great risk to underwater creature survival. Therefore, global warming impacts are real and more dangerous, as many think. These activities generate or emit greenhouse gases that increase atmospheric temperature leading to global warming. Some of the activities linked with the emission of greenhouse gases include the combustion of fossil fuels, production of cement, and deforestation.
Emission of gases such as CO2, not only increase atmospheric temperatures but also result in acidic rains. Acidic rains spoil clean water and affects underwater survival. Anthropogenic global warming has real consequences that are costly and fatal. It causes prolonged droughts, acidic rains, wildlife extinction, air pollution, and strong and intense storms. In turn, these impacts negatively affect the life of each living organism, making the earth a difficult place to live. Several stakeholders need to join efforts in developing environmental policies that will restrict the emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2. Moreover, a global organization such as UNEP needs to implement strong policies against deforestation to ensure trees are not cleared in most parts of the world. Additionally, it is a responsibility for each human being to ensure their activities do not in any way pollute the environment. Therefore, the minimization of human activities that lead to global warming will play a major role in ensuring we live in a healthy and friendly environment.
Natural Gas and the Environment
Natural gas has become a vital increase source of energy and an alternative to coal. Over the years, coal products have been accused of polluting the environment, making it unhealthy for living organisms. Natural gas is a substitute for oil because it reduces pollution (low GHG emissions) and maintains a clean environment. In the US, in addition to being locally abundant, the commodity provides vast environmental benefits compared to other fossil fuels. According to data comparisons from EPA, natural gas boasts as the cleanest fossil fuel. It is largely composed of methane gas, and when combusted, it releases CO2 and H2O (water vapor) – compounds which living organisms inhale. In contrast, coal and oil are made of complex compounds that have high amounts of sulfur, carbon, and nitrogen. Thus, the combustion of oil releases extremely harmful GHG emissions, including NOx, CO2, and NO2. In addition to GHC emissions, the combustion of coal products also releases ash particles and substances which are in incombustible and released to the atmosphere, contributing to increased air pollution. Comparatively, when combusted, natural gas releases significantly low levels of NOx and SO2, with no ash or substances.
Table 1: Fossil Fuel Emission Levels by Source
Source: EIA (2018)
Thus, as the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas can be utilized as an alternative to coal and fuel to aid in reducing GHG emissions. Besides, when there is a higher reliance on gas, there is a big opportunity to have a cleaner and more healthy environment than before. Emissions in the US, primarily from fossil fuels, have resulted in increased environmental problems. Thus, with huge amounts of natural gas being produced locally, the country is set to benefit from reduced GHG emissions and other detrimental pollutants.
Air Quality, Smog, Acidic Rains and Weather Patterns
Air Quality and Smog
Increased levels of smog and extremely poor air quality in urban areas poses serious environmental issues. Smog, for instance, is composed of particles released after reactions between CO2, NO2, heat (sunlight), and other organic compounds. In addition to forming smoggy haze, smog can result in serious health problems such as respiratory diseases. Research shows that pollutants that contribute to the formation of smog come from vehicle emissions (Adgate et al., 2014). Ideally, smog requires heat to be formed; hence, smog problems mainly occur during summer when there is heat (due to sunlight).
The consumption of natural gas does not contribute to forming smog because, when combusted, it only releases relatively small amounts of NO2 and virtually no other particles. For this reason, it can be argued that the use of natural gas is the best option to combat smog problems, especially in metropolitan areas where there is reported poor air quality. Nitrogen oxides are mainly released by emissions from cars, electric utilities, and industrial plants. The increased reliance on natural gas in these sectors, such as power generation and other industrial use, can serve in combating the formation of smog. Particularly, during summer periods, when there is a low demand for natural gas, there are increased smog issues. Environment authorities should press power generating firms and industries using fuels to shift to natural gas. As a result, there would be reduced emissions of chemicals that form smog; the environment would be much clearer, cleaner, and healthier.
Particulate emissions have been accused of being the leading cause of degrading air quality in the US. Soot, ash, and metals are some examples of particulate emissions. In research carried out in 2008 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, people living in areas considered risky (where high levels of particulates are released) have a high risk of premature deaths (Meng, 2015). Unlike fossil fuels such as coal or oil that produce high levels of particulate matter, natural gas has relatively low particulate matter; in fact, studies show that particulates emitted when natural gas is combusted 90% lower compared to the percentage of the same particles when other fossil fuels are combusted (Jacquet & Stedman, 2011). Therefore, the consumption of natural gas as a substitute to fuel can aid in reducing levels of particulates emitted in the US.
The planet has experienced profound climatic changes. Some of the changes are related to human activities – anthropogenic pollution. Profoundly, there has been increased acidic rains due to air pollution. Acid rain is a general term that is used to describe any type of precipitation with acidic elements such as nitric or sulfuric acid that falls from atmosphere to the ground in dry or wet forms. According to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), acidic rain can fall in the form of natural rain, dust, hail, snow, and fog (Menz and Hans). When fuels are burnt, vast chemicals are produced. The smoke or fumes that come from factory chimneys, cars’ exhausts, and fumes from other industrial activities does not just contain sooty components that can only be seen, but also a lot of different invisible chemical gases, which pollute or mix the atmospheric gases from acidic rains which are harmful to our ecology.
Level of Acidity in Acid Rains
In the chemistry context, acidity can be measured using the PH scale – go from 0 – 14, where 0 is most acidic, while 14 is most basic or alkaline, and value 7 is said to be neutral (neither basic nor acidic). Strong acids usually burn when they meet skins or plants and destroy metals. However, acid rain is very weak and not enough to burn skin. Hence, the level of acid rain can say to be between value 4 and 4.8 of the PH scale
When oxides gases such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), Sulfur (IV) Oxide, and Carbon (IV) oxides are emitted into the atmosphere, they are transported by air currents and wind. These gases react with water and atmospheric gases such as oxygen to form acid rains. Manmade pollutants have been touted as key contributors to most acidic precipitation. The mentioned gases are released by vehicles, oil refineries, fossil-fuel power plants, and other industrial activities. EPA indicates that two-thirds of SO2 and one-fourth of NOx found in the atmosphere are released by electric power generators. Although anthropogenic pollution is seen as the key cause of acid rains, natural disasters can also play a key role in the formation of acid precipitation. For instance, volcanic eruptions can cause acidic rains by blasting chemical pollutants into the atmosphere. These pollutant components are carried around the world in jet streams far from the volcano and turned into acid rain in other regions.
Acid rain has huge negative impacts on nearly everything, from plants, buildings, soils, to trees and oceans. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide are not primarily the major greenhouse gases contributing to global warming – the main effect of climatic change; instead, SO4 has a cooling effect on the atmospheric layers. However, NOx largely contributes to the building of ground-level ozone, a serious pollutant that is harmful to people. Both gases can cause health and environmental concerns since they are easy via acid rain and air pollution.
Acid rain has vast environmental effects, especially on lakes, wetlands, rivers, and streams, among other aquatic environments. Acid rain makes waters in these ecological places more acidic, resulting in increased absorption of aluminum from the soil. The combination of aluminum with acid components results in harmful oxides that are toxic to living organisms in water bodies such as fish and plants. Some species have better survival means and could survive acidic waters more than others. However, since the ecosystem is interconnected, effects on certain species will break down the food chain, thereby affecting the entire aquatic ecosystems and non-aquatic species such as birds.
In the land, acid rain and fogs have adverse impacts on forests, especially those found in higher elevations. When acid rains fall, acidic deposits rob the soil of vital nutrients such as calcium and, in turn, cause aluminum oxides to be released in soils, making it difficult for trees to take up water. As a result, this affects the photosynthesis process, and trees cannot make foods to grow since they do not have water, and chlorophyll in leaves has already been destroyed by acid. A combination of environmental stressors and acidic rain leaves plants and leaves unhealthy, extremely vulnerable to diseases and cold temperatures. In most cases, plants and trees underwent stunted growth and inhibited the ability to reproduce. There are some areas where soils have a higher ability to neutralize acid rains than others. However, in areas where soils have a low buffering capacity, the effects of acid rain are higher. Acid rains also damage cars, limestone buildings, and metals. The materials used to manufacture physical structures are mainly made of metals. These metals rust when they meet acid rain. When acid rain comes in the form of fog, it can cause health problems for people, such as asthma and eye irritation. Hence, acid rain can be seen to have adverse impacts on everything it comes across.
Acid rain has negative impacts on our environment, from plants, buildings, to water bodies, aquatic life, and human health. Acid rains have been linked to health problems in humans. In the environment, acid rains affect plants and trees by inhibiting photosynthesis and water uptake. The marine ecosystem is also affected since toxic acids kill aquatic species. Conserving our resources, finding alternative ways to produce electric energy, and reducing emissions are key ways to mitigate the formation of acid rains.
As the world continues to get warmer, the warming caused by climatic change is triggering massive changes to Earth’s weather patterns. Climatic changes have devastating effects on the world’s weather patterns. Increased temperatures are causing oceans to expand and become hot; ice in Greenland and Antarctica are melting, contributing to already rising sea levels. As such, millions of areas of land are now in danger of flooding, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Climatic changes have also altered rainfall patterns and droughts seasons. Prolonged rains (heavy rains in some parts) and drought (short rains in other areas) are affecting agriculture and food supply, and many countries now face increased possibilities of hunger. More droughts mean increased heat waves due to reducing soil moisture and increased temperatures. In addition to changes in weather patterns, climatic changes also have had consequential effects on other areas of the world. Ice on lakes and rivers are breaking up earlier; glaciers have shrunk, while animals and plants have shifted. NASA reports that snow covers in the Northern Hemisphere are decreasing because snow is melting earlier (Derksen, & Brown, 2012). Ocean acidity has also increased over the years, highlighting the increase in emissions of carbon dioxide (oceans are absorbing over 2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually).
Land Use, Wildlife, and Earthquakes
In addition to GHG emissions and pollutions, construction, extraction, and drilling of natural gas can also alter landmass and harm the domestic ecosystems. Exploration of oil and natural gas has been accused of increased wildlife migration, fragmented habitats, and erosion. When drilling sites are cleared and roads and wells are constructed, there are higher chances of disturbing land, leading to erosion of harmful materials into nearby streams. For example, a study carried out to investigate the effects of hydrofracturing in Michigan showed that there were significant environmental effects, including increased sedimentations and erosion. These impacts, in turn, contribute to high risks of contaminating aquatic bodies due to habitat fragmentation reduced water surface and increased release of chemical spills.
Drilling technologies such as fracking have also been linked with low-magnitude earthquakes. Studies show that these drilling techniques cause close to 2-moment magnitude, but which go undetected (Wang et al., 2013). However, the injection of large amounts of wastewater under high pressure to break rocks has been linked with larger magnitude seismic activities in the US. Studies show that at least 4.5 M earthquakes have hit interior regions of the US and can be attributed to injection-induced seismicity (Bradbury et al., 2013).
Currently, over 60% of the world’s population depends on groundwater for consumption, while in the United States, over 50% of the population depends on groundwater. Globally, groundwater makes 30% of freshwater water reserve. Not only do people use groundwater for drinking, but also for irrigation, since it is the cheapest and most cost-effective means to extract. Without rain, groundwater releases large portions of water to water bodies to sustain the ecosystem (Assaf & Al-Masri, 2007). This makes groundwater a vital natural resource for most parts of the world. Unfortunately, groundwater is susceptible to a plethora of pollutants, ranging from industrial wastes, agricultural, subsurface sewage disposal systems, municipal landfills, and mining and petroleum products, among others. Today, the rapid industrial revolution and increased use of chemicals have led to the release of high amounts of contaminants that end up in groundwater.
As technology advances, the number of these sites where hazardous products, such as mining waste, chemicals, and radioactive components, are disposed of keeps increasing each day. Notably, most of these sites are highly hazardous, and there are inadequate measures and programs put in place to monitor. Hence, they may result in possible leakage of dangerous chemical substances to the groundwater.
As the US continues to seek industrial growth, it has developed new methods to transport oil, petroleum, and natural gas via underground pipes (Tarr, 2003). In several instances, these transmission systems continue to leak or burst and end up releasing products into the ground. Most chemicals and oil products are kept in storage tanks and placed below or above the ground. Today, the US accounts for over 10 million storage barrels containing different oil and chemical products stored in the underground. Over time, storage tanks erode or leak and end up releasing harmful substances that contaminate groundwater. Subsequently, the released substances find their way through the porous ground to reach groundwater, contaminating it.
Several methods can be used to protect as well as conserve groundwater. This starts with homes and yards where people should be advised to reduce chemicals. Otherwise, they should find better ways to dispose of them than dumping on the ground. In addition to regular checks of protective layers in landfills, municipal waste management departments should find other ways of managing waste. Close monitoring of underground pipes and regular checks to prevent pipe leakages are essential. Additionally, underground pipes carrying chemicals should be made of strong materials to reduce the chances of bursting. The government should impose a strong restriction for preventing greenhouse emissions from industrial companies to prevent atmospheric pollution (Metzger, 2005). More regulation is required to regulate mining sites from releasing waste products to the ground. Companies should find alternatives to dispose of the waste or develop recycling mechanisms to reuse the waste product rather than disposing it to the ground.
Externalities Associated with Transportation, Supply, and Distribution of Natural Gas
Several externalities are linked with TS&D of natural gas. They include air quality, public safety, and emissions. TS&D for natural gas provides an array of opportunities for infrastructural investment to increase safety, improve energy efficiency, and improve environmental performance. Moreover, TS&D facilities continue to create more job opportunities for Americans. For instance, the replacement of leaky and old facilities creates thousands of employment opportunities while they aid in the reduction of emissions. This goes in line with the Climate Action Plan – strategies aiming to reduce methane emissions significantly.
The majority of safety incidents that involve gas pipelines befall on distribution systems. Such incidents heavily occur in densely populated regions. Excavation damage has been termed to be the leading source of incidents involving gas pipelines. In addition to excavation damage, there are other substantial drivers of pipeline incidents, such as pipeline corrosion, faulty operations, and equipment failure. However, these incidents are very rare and sporadic but may increase as the distribution systems continue to age. Overall, there has been improved safety of pipeline safety over the last two decades and a reduction in the recorded number of safety concern incidents.
The US Department of Energy indicates that transmission and gathering systems are vital to the running of the nation’s economy. However, safety risk largely concentrates on domestic distribution systems that operate in low volumes and pressures. Between 1998 – 2014, fatalities caused by accidents arising from distribution systems amounted to 270 deaths and over 1,200 injuries. Additionally, the transmission systems incidents caused over 40 deaths and 170 injuries in the same period. In 2010, a pipeline incident occurred in San Bruno, CA leaving nine people dead and over 50 others injured. This incident motivated scrutiny and revision of transmission system safety guidelines. As a result, between 2014 – 2018, there has been one fatality arising from transmission system incidents. During the Obama administration, Congress passed the Pipeline Safety Act to respond to concerns raised on incidents arising from pipeline system accidents. The role of the Act is to re-examine safety requirements, such as expanding of integrated management and planning of TS&D systems. In 2011, NTSA instructed PHMSA to require all contractors and operators of TS&D systems to equip systems with monitoring tools to aid in pinpointing areas with faulty, leakage, and accidents along with pipeline systems transporting natural gas. Recent research by the NTSA examined major pipeline accidents to determine and recommend effective safety measures to improve integrity management plans, especially in densely populated and high-risk regions (Werner et al., 2015). The board found that safety improvements and requirements in high-risk areas rose between 2010 – 2014. The study recommends more training for operators and the provision of clearer instructions. It also commends enhanced coordination between fed regulators and firms dealing in TS&D of natural gas.
Operators dealing with transmission systems have few requirements to ensure there are enough inspections and leak detections to enhance integrity management programs. The NTSA has also developed industrial standards for specific routine practices. These standards include instrumentation, metering, and safety of the equipment.
Accidents and Injuries in the Coal and Oil Mining Industry
The mining sector deals with extraction and drilling of raw materials such as oil, iron ore, coal, and diamond, among other minerals. The extraction can be carried out in both underground mining and open cast mining. Most of the mining environments are difficult settings for people to work since mines can degenerate fast and change as the mining sector evolves. Since the beginning of mining operations in the late 19th century, workers’ health and safety have become a major concern. These workers face a plethora of risks to their well-being, including psychological, physical, and ergonomic problems (Wei, 2011).
Over the past years, deaths, injuries, and traumas have remained a significant problem for these miners. Some of the noteworthy causes of fatal injuries and deaths in the mining industries include mobile equipment accidents, falling from high heights, and entrapment. If a miner escapes death, he or she may suffer broken bones or asphyxiation. Miners working in digging and extracting mines of the solid core have significantly suffered tragic accidents in the hands of their organizations. Most of them suffer since they are not well-trained on safety measures or are not provided with proper mining attire such as belts, helmets, and torches to save their lives in case of accidents.
Source: United States Farm Security Administration
Most Common Causes of Mining Accidents
Chemically, methane gas has been characterized as an extremely explosive gas that is trapped in the coal layers. Methane can be triggered by mechanical faults that might result from malfunctioning or even properly fitted equipment. Also, proper explosives in the underground can trigger methane in coal layers, thereby initiating coal dust explosions. In the history of mining accidents, coal dust explosions and methane have resulted in the largest mining accidents leading to deaths of miners (Kecojevic, Komljenovic, Groves, & Radomsky, 2007). For example, the Courrieres disaster (explosion of dust and methane) left more than 1000 workers dead. The tragedy is ranked as one of the worst mining disasters in Europe.
Examples of Mining Accidents
On April 5th, 2010, more than 29 miners were killed and two injured due to dust explosion. This incident occurred in the Upper Big Branch site. The incident is ranked as the most tragic explosion accident in the US mining industry in the past four decades (Davis et al., 2015). Methane ignition initiated the coal dust explosion in the mine. Investigator’s reports shown that physical conditions leading to the explosion were attributable to successions of safety violations by contractors. The investigation panels argued that the explosion could have been prevented if the mining systems were designed to protect the lived of the miners. Moreover, basic safety practices could have contained an explosion and avoided the deaths and injuries of the workers. However, failure to install supplemental roofs limited airflow in the unit (McAteer et al., 2011). As a result, methane accumulated in the area, thereby accelerating the magnitude of the explosion.
In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling unit blasted caught fire and led to the eventual sinking of the unit. There was a discharge of oil from BP’s Macondo well to the ocean. Investigation reports show that the tragedy could have been triggered by a rig blowout preventer due to failure in automated function to initiate a command to avert the explosion. This was due to improper mechanical maintenance (White et al., 2012). Subsequent efforts used in activating the blowout preventer also failed to prevent a good blowout. The explosion led to the continued and uncontrollable discharge of oil and natural gas to the ocean. The U.S District Court indicates that over 134 million gallons of oil were discharged into the ocean. Under pressure, oil spread into the Deep Ocean from the Macondo well (Ramseur & Hagerty, 2009). The discharged oil created a plume of oil on the seafloor and covered over 15,300Sq/m of the ocean. The incident had substantial impacts on the ecosystem and economic life of people.
Health and Safety Issues
A critical environmental health problem caused by climatic change is malaria. This is a vector-borne disease that kills over 400,000 people annually (Pecl et al., 2017). Mosquitoes are susceptible to climatic conditions, with most studies suggesting climatic changes are likely to increase exposure to this disease (Fisher, 2010). Although strategy to curb extreme climatic changes requires multi-faceted efforts from all stakeholders, policymakers at the regional levels should develop laws and regulations to control and prevent operations that contribute to changes in climate. Policies should be designed to plant more trees, reduce greenhouse emissions, and protect our forest and water catchment areas (Maxwell, 2014).
In past years, the health and safety of the workers were not taken seriously. They did not receive the necessary protection and support to enhance their health and safety measures. For instance, lifts and machines carrying the underground miners were not properly fitted or checked regularly for maintenance. Moreover, the engines and dumpers for carrying miners and loads did not have proper roadways while coal cubs were broken, thereby causing accidents. Hence, most of the accidents occurring in the mining industries were attributed to the negligence of the employers.
Currently, the safety measures are strict and governed by legislation Act of Health and Safety. Specific laws have been introduced to ensure employers meet certain criteria for mining operations to take place. This includes the implementation of safety measures, installing necessary protection, and supportive infrastructure that prevents the occurrence of accidents in underground and opencast mining. Mining companies have also been instructed to carry out risk assessment measurements before sending employees to the mines. Additionally, response measures have been enhanced to ensure there is a quick response to save employees in case of an accident.
Today, the US safety measures have been immensely improved compared to other countries such as China, India, and European Union states. For instance, the member states have the authority to develop stricter laws that protect workers. In the US, the department of labor that governs Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has the authority to review the actions of mining companies to ensure they comply with statutory requirements (Boden, 2017). MSHA is also responsible for investigating mine accidents, reviewing employees’ complaints, developing mandatory statutory safety measures, reviewing and approving mine operator’s plan, and conducting education and training programs to ensure the safety and health of stakeholders is achieved.
Ethics Involved in Mining Accidents
Personal responsibility and consent are two major ethics concepts observed in the mining industry about the occurrence of the accidents. Workers in the mining industry take risks with their health and lives daily. Before a worker is given the job, he is given informed consent on the risks associated with the job. However, in the mining industry, the information concerning certain risks has not been effectively communicated to the workers. Workers should have full information and knowledge regarding risks associated with the jobs. Most mining companies have left consent and risk-taking matters to the workers. Ethically, workers should be guided before they make decisions. It is the responsibility of the contracted company to involve the workers on risks they might face in their line of jobs. Moreover, in the wake of an accident, employers should take responsibility.
Historically, the government was not involved, since the mining industries used to be privatized. Today, the narrative has changed because the government has taken over and regulated most of the mining industry. The Fed and States’ governments now have the authority to handle the sector. These government developed Acts and policies to ensure there is the maximum provision of insurance coverage for workers in the mining industry. Moreover, employers have been instructed to strictly follow statutory requirements that include risk management, inspection, and machine maintenance on a regular basis to ensure the health and safety of the workers are guaranteed.
The Future of Natural Gas: Opportunities and Uncertainties
Although natural gas plays a huge role in the economy and making the environment cleaner and healthy, it has been overlooked for decades. However, the debate on the future benefits of gas in the energy sector has gained momentum in recent years in the US. Today, natural gas is rapidly finding its place in the center of energy consumption and promises a great future, given its environmental benefits. Several reasons can be attributed to the ever-shifting focus on natural gas as an alternative source of energy. For instance, recent developments and the revolution of shale gas has increased awareness of this precious commodity. The government has begun to recognize its economic and environmental benefits, hence, willing to commit billions of dollars towards its production, processing, and transmission to end-users.
For years, the US has relied heavily on oil from the Middle East, a region known for its political unrest and terrorist acts. For example, at the end of 2019, Saudi Arabia’s main oil production site was bombed by terrorists amid clashes between the US and Iran. The strike on this site caused the supply of oil to decline, hiked prices, and affected the main sectors in the US. At the start of 2020, the Iraq government voted for American troops to vacate the country (Baylis, 2020). For almost two decades, Iraq and other Middle East nations have hosted thousands of American troops who are fighting terrorist groups such as ISIS. If the American forces leave this region, there is a higher likelihood of increased terror attacks on American allies and interests, such as oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia. Attack on oil-rich nations will cut the supply of oil, increase oil prices, and affect both the US and global economy. Thus, as tensions between the US and Middle East countries continues to deepen, so does the focus for an alternative source of energy. For these reasons, the US should reduce its dependence on oil and shift its focus on investing in the production of natural gas.
Natural gas is widely recognized to have a low content of carbon and other heavy hydrocarbons compared to coal and oil. This quality makes it a better and auspicious substitute for oil and coal. That is because its consumption will significantly reduce emissions. It will act as a bridge to a low-carbon future, thereby solving current pollution issues and global warming. Although shale gas is reported to have environmental impacts, environmental regulation bodies report that these challenges can be managed. Production of shale gas requires large-scale fracking. These fractures are caused by drilling and extraction methods and can leave groundwater zones vulnerable to contamination with fracturing waste. Given the insufficient evidence to support this argument, it is a point that must be considered in the future.
Going forward, it is anticipated that natural gas will be an important source of energy for many sectors. From generating electric power and being a source of heat for industrial plants to residential and commercial use, natural gas is expected to be an important input in many sectors, thanks to its array of applications. Particularly, in the power generation sector, natural gas is seen as an alternative to coal, nuclear, and hydrothermal energies. The US is already constrained with huge levels of carbon emissions resulting from electric power plants. Increased consumption of this gas is a quick fix solution to eradicating these emissions. Besides, growth in the production of natural gas presents an opportunity to increase its consumption in this sector and compete directly with other sources of energy. In the future, we will likely witness massive shifts from coal-powered plants to gas-powered plants, which in turn will increase gas demand. Today, approximately 30% of natural gas is used in generating electric power; however, this percentage will substantially increase because gas-powered plants will replace coal-powered plants – an effective way to reduce CO2 emissions in the sector with more than 40% of other pollutants causing air, water, and land pollutions.
Globally, there is a plentiful supply of natural gas; the only reason there is under-utilization of this resource can be attributed to lack of infrastructure to extract and process it. However, developed economies such as the US – with massive technologies and funds – have the potential to increase the supply of natural gas, not only in domestic markets but also in global markets. According to EIA projections, increased production of shale gas by the US will significantly contribute to increased supply of energy to global markets and help in combating GHG emissions. It is expected that the supply of natural gas will surpass its demand in the US; hence, the nation can focus on exporting it to international markets. Heightened awareness of the importance and beneficial aspects of natural gas will also contribute to its demand across the globe. Given the fact that the US has technologies, merchandise, and funds to produce and process the gas, the government can capitalize on increased demand and export the gas to the global markets. Consequently, thousands of jobs will be created, and the economy gain from dollars earned from exported gas. Therefore, in the future, the US economy will largely benefit from the production and supply of natural gas.
Despite its growth and proven benefits, natural gas faces major uncertainties in the future. One of the major uncertainties is the adoption of policies for mitigating the extent and nature of GHG emissions. The current legislature’s response to climatic changes and threats has proven to quite challenging. For example, Trump’s administration has reduced its contribution to curbing climate threats. However, under the Clean Air Act, EPA has developed policies that seek to limit GHG emissions at local and regional levels. Globally, the US cannot rely on national pledges made regarding adherence to the Copenhagen Accord. Besides, there is increased uncertainty whether agreements made by the different governments to replace the Kyoto Protocol will play out as anticipated. Thus, with the absence of agreed and clear policies to mitigate GHG emissions at the international level, it is up to the US legislature to develop stringent policies to regulate GHG emissions arising due to the consumption of natural gas. Their other uncertainty lies in the use of environmentally-friendly-or-accepted drilling, extraction, production, processing, and transmission methods. Since the production of natural gas is expected to accelerate in the coming years, methods used from drilling to the convey of the product to the end-users must consider environmental impacts and contribute to the reduction of emissions.
Looking forward, markets and geopolitics will influence the transmission of the gas from producers to the end-users. Given its physical properties, it can only reach end-users via pipeline distribution systems. Today, US gas is said to be more mature and sophisticated. Thus, it is likely that that the gas will be demanded in regional markets in North America and Europe. In some of these markets, the gas is still in the integration phase. With recent developments such as its plentifulness, low cost, and environmental benefits, it is expected that there will be increased trading of the gas across the regions. As integrated markets continue to evolve, so do countries seeking to use the gas; hence, the US can be a major exporter of natural gas in the future. However, the US should be aware of security concerns that may arise due to its ability to export large amounts of gas. For instance, increased dependence on the gas both domestic and that of its allies can constrain foreign policies, especially, US duties and responsibilities in the global security. For example, if the US shifts from oil consumption to natural gas, its reliance on the Middle East will cease; hence, interests in fighting terrorism and security agenda on the region will reduce. The entrant of new market players can also introduce new challenges to developing a transparent market for natural gas. For example, Russia and Iran have the biggest reserves; given recent relations between the US and these countries, the US can expect intense market competition and increased impediments to fair and transparent gas markets.
The US can take several measures to eliminate and navigate impediments that will likely affect it pursuant as a top exporter of natural gas. For instance, the government should pursue regulations that inspire the development of international gas markets that are transparent and efficient. This can be done by integrating the gas into energy and security agendas and national and foreign policies. The US should also support IEA efforts in developing integrated global markets where natural gas can be traded in a transparent and fair manner. As the delivery systems continue to become interconnected, so does the need to advance technological and physical infrastructures to combat security and environmental issues.
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