The Environmental Effects of Natural Gas

Among all the fossil fuels used today, natural gas is a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel that produces fewer emissions than burning coal or oil. Natural gas has many uses, which include heating, cooking, and electricity. Residentially, natural gas is even used for home appliances such as furnaces, barbeques, and fireplaces. We use natural gas a lot, and it does come with its drawbacks. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, which means it has to be burned, and through this, it releases a lot of methane into the atmosphere. Extracting natural gas can be devastating to the area where it is found because the land needs to be drilled into to obtain the gas.  Since the fuel is found so deep inside the earth, drilling, and mining for it can displace the habitats of many animals and make the area uninhabitable. Natural gas has many disadvantages compared to cleaner, sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind. Today we’ll discuss the disadvantages of natural gas and alternative options to the harmful fossil fuel.

What Exactly is Natural Gas?

Natural gas is made from millions of years of pressure and heat deep under the earth’s surface. When plants and animals died, their remains built up in layers that were buried under sand, stone, and rock. The pressure and heat of the earth compressed these remains eventually forming natural gas. Natural gas is now a commonly used fossil fuel; however, the extraction process can be rather difficult.  To extract the gas from deep within the earth, it is either extracted through drilling, acidizing, or hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking is the most used yet most controversial method used when extracting natural gas. It involves splitting open rock formations with high-pressure streams of water, chemicals, and sand. The gas then escapes and can be stored.

Harmful Effects of Natural Gas

As mentioned above, the extraction of fossil fuels can be difficult and can have negative effects on the surrounding environment. Hydraulic Fracturing, also known as fracking, has been so damaging to the environment, some countries have banned the practice entirely. Fracking is damaging because not only does it use large quantities of water, but the process also produces toxic waste that can leak into groundwater, poisoning an entire area’s drinking water. In addition, fracking and drilling into the earth can displace the land harming the environment and making habitats unlivable for animals. Fracking has also been linked to microearthquakes, and even though the tremors cannot be felt on the surface they can cause structural damage to buildings in the surrounding areas.

Extracting natural gas is only the start of the harm natural gas causes to the planet. Natural gas is comprised mainly of methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas when burned. Even though natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than oil and coal, it still releases methane when burned. Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas, that when released, can trap heat contributing to global warming. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere (Environmental defense fund, 2021). So even though natural gas releases a lot less C02, the methane it releases is devastating for the environment.     

Alternatives to Natural Gas

The time to cut down on natural gas use is now. We must stop releasing methane into the air to help cool down the earth and reverse the effects of global warming. Switching to alternative sources of power such as wind energy can be the first step in reducing your use of natural gas. Many homes use natural gas for heating, electricity production, and their appliances. If you fall under this category, think about sustainable alternatives like a wind turbine or solar panels that can produce green energy for your homes. It will be the first step in reducing the extraction and burning of natural gas.