Greenhouse gas footprint

QLD gas field

Do you want to know the greenhouse footprint of Australian gas? Tim Forcey says, “how would we know?”—because no one is keeping track.

Energy and environmental planners like to do calculations and compare alternatives. Questions researchers might explore include: Which is cleaner: electricity made from coal or gas or renewables? What is the greenest way to heat your home, have a shower or cook spaghetti?

But there is a problem when it comes to evaluating the greenness of gas. Such comparisons need to be built on data. And, unfortunately, as we found recently in research at the University of Melbourne, although Australia may produce more fossil gas than nearly every other country, when it comes to digging up information around the greenhouse footprint of Australian gas, particularly unconventional gas, data is in short supply.

The greenness of gas depends significantly on how much is released into the earth’s atmosphere. Fossil gas predominantly consists of methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas—with worse climate impacts than carbon dioxide (see box). Our research found that if just 3% of the produced gas is released into the atmosphere, the climate-change impact of this released methane is equivalent to or worse than the climate impact of burning (and thereby converting to carbon dioxide) the other 97%.

It is critical, therefore, that we know how much gas is released during production and other stages.

Unconventional vs conventional gas
We’ve all heard of fracking and coal seam gas, but it can be easy to miss just how much these ‘unconventional’ gas production methods have escalated in recent years in Australia. There is some real (measured) data on emissions from conventional gas extraction, but these measurements can’t simply be applied to unconventional gas.

Read the full article in ReNew 144.

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