Now That Natural Gas Is Working, Methane Is Being Called More Damaging Than CO2
    By Hank Campbell | June 5th 2014 06:04 PM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    In 2007, after a marketing blitz for climate change during much of 2006 and the release of a new UN IPCC report, mentioning that methane had 23X the global warming effect of CO2 would get you shouted down and sternly reminded that CO2 lasts far longer.

    That is absolutely correct. Yet recently, twice in the same week, two papers warned us that methane will cause global warming regardless of CO2.

    What changed? Well, CO2 emissions went down, and it wasn't due to the $72 billion in taxpayer money which included solar panel subsidies or the afterthought of wind power or the other get-rich-quick schemes in alternative energy we have tried since 2009 - it even happened without nuclear power, the best and most viable zero-emissions energy of them all.  It also happened without banning existing energy. The big change instead came because America switched to natural gas, and that was thanks to science and the free market. Due to that switch, energy emissions haven't looked this good in 20 years.  Coal emissions haven't looked this good in 30 years.

    Believe it or not, to environmental fundraisers, that is a really bad thing.

    With CO2 emissions dropping, activists have started to wind up the machine against methane and they note it is worse than CO2 - without mentioning that it is short-lived or that it is the primary component in cleaner natural gas. Instead, 'natural' is being removed from the term completely and replaced with 'shale'.

    Activists know their framing far better than energy corporations do.

    So CO2 is now immaterial? 

    Marine ecologist Robert Howarth of Cornell was unheard of before environmentalists turned him into an anti-fracking rock star by getting him into the New York Times - as Jon Entine noted, some of the articles beatifying him as the next environmental wunderkind were so partisan and shoddy their Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, thought they had lost their collective minds, with all of the anonymous quotes and scare-mongering that somehow passed editorial scrutiny. Howarth delivers his apocalyptic message again on cue in Energy Science and Engineering, warning us that we are just a few years away from an environmental tipping point.

    Because of natural gas - the thing that environmentalists lobbied for since the 1960s.

    "We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States," said Howarth in his Cornell press release. "If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe."

    So CO2 is now immaterial? Actual climate scientists are going to be even less thrilled with his latest crazy claim than the last time he tried to help. Then, fellow Cornell academic Lawrence Cathles, who actually is a climate science expert, debunked his claim that natural gas wells are the "methane sieves" Howarth claimed - and using decades-old Soviet Union-era data to massage the results didn't endear him to earth scientists either.

    The reality is that emissions have gone down. That is good. And environmentalists are the last group we want messing that up. Emissions would never have been such a critical problem if environmentalists and their well-paid lobbyists hadn't gotten the Clinton administration to destroy energy science in America in the early 1990s. We would have had fourth generation nuclear power by now if American technological leadership hadn't been handcuffed by the politicization of science. Environmentalists never point to themselves as the reason American CO2 emissions got so high - by forcing out nuclear energy, they created a government fiat for coal. Germany is having the same problem right now, activists are forcing them away from science and back to the 1940s. Luckily for America, in the last decade geologists discovered how to really make natural gas work at a cost that doesn't leave poor people freezing in their homes. Germany would love to make that happen too.

    When even Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council think you are misguided...

    To most of us, it's a little strange to see a marine ecologist debunk all of climate science and claim that CO2 caps are irrelevant and we will warm by 2.0 degree Celsius within the next 35 years anyway - unless fracking is banned. Who disagrees with him? The US Energy Department and all of science. Heck, even the the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council disavow his claims, and they hate everything.

    "Society needs to wean itself from the addiction to fossil fuels as quickly as possible," Howarth said. "But to replace some fossil fuels – coal, oil – with another, like natural gas, will not suffice as an approach to take on global warming. Rather, we should embrace the technologies of the 21st century and convert our energy systems to ones that rely on wind, solar and water power."

    None of which are viable yet. In 35 years solar might be. Heck, in 50, fusion might be. But lobbying for more solar subsidies now is silly.

    The future is bright for solar. But just like you can't spend a lot of money and get time travel or a cure for cancer, wasting more money on solar panel subsidies today accomplishes nothing except keeping Chinese manufacturers in business. Link:

    It's a strange sort of American nationalism that afflicts both environmentalists and also partisan academics who know just enough about business and technology to be wrong. As Andrew Beebe of SunTech put it - “You had folks who came in with the hubris to say about solar, ‘I know these guys have been working on this for 50 years, but I’ve got $50 million and I can blow the doors off this thing.’” And he knows what he is talking about. Suntech went bankrupt to the tune of $541 million just in bonds.

    And that's the crux of the problem. Environmentalists and marine ecologists who know nothing at all about how real innovation works think they can just throw money at one thing and penalize another and capitalism magic happens. The real world, outside of academia and fundraising brochures, is a lot messier. Like evolution, innovation has starts and stops, sometimes it tries a few times and fails. What has never worked is assuming that if we spend 100X as much money, the process will go 100X as fast.

    Citation: Robert W. Howarth, 'A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas', Energy Science&Engineering May 15, 2014 DOI: 10.1002/ese3.35


    Where did you get all this?
    1. "mentioning that methane had 23X the global warming effect of CO2 would get you shouted down and sternly reminded that CO2 lasts far longer." Who actually said anything like that?

    2. "natural gas - the thing that environmentalists lobbied for since the 1960s." The 1960s were 50 years ago. No-one imagined back then that companies would blast hazardous polluting chemicals into underground aquifers in search of "natural" gas. All in the name of more billions of dollars than they already have.

    3."The reality is that emissions have gone down. That is good. " Emissions have only gone down in the USA - some would say that is well overdue, but what has happened to all that dirty coal you used to burn? You're selling it to Asia and Europe for them to burn and surprise, surprise, their emissions have gone up. Climate change is a GLOBAL issue, it isn't one of nationalism.

    4. " We would have had fourth generation nuclear power by now.." No you wouldn't. Nuclear plant errors in the US and elsewhere worldwide showed how potentially catastrophic nuclear leakage can be. If you're so keen on nuclear, perhaps you could live in Chernoby for a while?
    In the UK recently, the nuclear facility at Sellafield was fined for sending several bags of radioactive waste to a landfill site. If nuclear was that attractive to investors the 4th generation would be built, but nuclear has dangerous by-products that no-one was to go anywhere near and huge decommisioning costs. I certainly wouldn't invest in it.

    5. "wasting more money on solar panel subsidies today accomplishes nothing except keeping Chinese manufacturers in business. " The sun emits about 7,000 times more energy than is required for human consumption. Solar power generation worldwide has more than doubled in just two years - each year since 2006 China has at least doubled the amount of new pv installed nationwide - but most of the solar growth has been concentrated in Europe, where solar meet the household electricity needs of over 70 million people - that's an accomplishment. Imagine how quickly solar could grow if every country embraced it as much?

    And talking of subsidies...The world is spending half a TRILLION dollars on fossil fuel subsidies every year, according to a new report by The Overseas Development Institute. Some countries including Egypt, Morocco and Pakistan, have subsidies bigger than the national fiscal deficit. The International Energy Agency agrees, their data shows the gravy train that fossil fuel companies are riding at our expense - global subsidies for fossil fuels are SIX times higher than those for renewable energy.

    Climate changes are real and happening now, fuelled by continued fossil fuel burning - including methane. Renewables offers a chance to change that, in a way that will improve health in cities, stop dependence on fuel imports and that allows every roof and yard to generate the power that a household needs. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Please.

    Can we change this to DrivelWillPrevail?
    Never is a long time.
    You must have forgotten that the methane claim was once the domain of climate change deniers. They would point out the fact that methane had more impact in order to suggest environmentalists were wrong in their desire to regulate carbon emissions. Basically, it seemed to back the claim that environmentalism was about politics and not science.

    On nuclear, look at the data. Nuclear power is by far the safest source of energy when used properly. It kills less people per kW than either wind or solar. 4rth gen reactors can be run on what we once thought of as waste which limits the problems in waste disposal, and much of the waste can be reprocessed for use in other industries such as medicine.

    If it hadn't been for the environmental movement and the fear of nuclear weapons, nuclear power would be much more wide spread, and the additional research and infrastructure backing nuclear would reduce the danger to investors. If you really want to get serious about fighting climate change, you have to embrace nuclear.

    Yes, it is very difficult to find an environmentalist willing to accept their role in increasing American CO2 emissions. As I noted, Germany is being handcuffed now too. Environmentalists have made nuclear power bad, and now the German public doesn't want to use Russian natural gas due to Ukraine, and solar is not viable. So they are being forced to rely on energy from coal.

    If activists had lobbied for clean energy rather than no energy 40 years ago, American ingenuity - where we lead the world - would have 4th generation nuclear done by now.
    They environmentalist aren't seeing the natural gas economy for what it is, a stepping stone. 
    As I understand it, the vision, most briefly summarized by the Pickens plan, is to expand natural gas and wind power.  We know how to do natural gas a wind, they aren't perfect, but they lower our immediate emission and foreign old dependence. 

    Meanwhile we build out an infrastructure which can handle compressed and/or liquefied natural gas for transportation fuel.

    The last step is to replace natural gas with compressed and or liquefied hydrogen.  The hydrogen would be obtained by some non-emitting electrical source.  In the case of nuclear plants, they produce gaseous hydrogen.  (The big explosions on Fukushima Dai Ichi...were gaseous hydrogen which ordinarily seems to just go to waste.) 

    So over the next 50 years or so we wean ourselves off fossil fuels.  Thus preserving our oil and coal for other petrochemical uses aside from fuel. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Exactly it. We need a bridge to good solar or fusion or hydrogen or whatever.  We said we wanted to get back to early 1990s levels and we did - for them to now shriek that all fossil fuels are bad or, weirder, that we are responsible if some other country buys coal, is just an instance of activists who are determined to say the country stinks no matter what.
    Worse than that, I think - I think there's way too many of the ecological activists who believe that humanity itself must go. I also think Tom Clancy identified the appropriate solution for them in Rainbow 6 - drop them bare assed naked in some appropriate "natural" location - heart of the Gobi Desert comes to mind, the middle of the Amazon, snowline of a Rocky Mountain peak, deep Congo, I'm sure we can find various places.

    Yes indeed. It is easy to embrace the naturalistic fallacy from an environmental corporation office with a full belly and air conditioning.
    Good solar? What does that mean? Pardon me for being the child pointing at the emperor's nakedness, but I remember my seventh grade general science class. One factor cooling the earth is the reflection of solar light back into space. That's what the white polar ice caps do. Harnessing solar light and turning it into heat or some other form of energy that remains on earth would have a warming effect. Doesn't that mean that harnessing solar energy contributes to the same problem it is supposed to solve? Is my seventh grade thinking off base?

     In the case of nuclear plants, they produce gaseous hydrogen.  (The big explosions on Fukushima Dai Ichi...were gaseous hydrogen which ordinarily seems to just go to waste.)

    I think, hydrogen is not a normal by product, but comes when the fuel rods over heat, basically splitting water (see correct answer from here)

    The last answer about zircaloy is correct. The reaction between zirconium and the oxygen part of the water molecule takes place at high temperature releasing the hydrogen. I'm not sure of the exact temperature but believe it is around 1200 degrees F. The normal operating temperature of the reactor is around 570. The fact that hydrogen is being produced is proof positive that the fuel bundles were uncovered (the uranium pellets are clad in a zirconium alloy) and on their way to melting. Some press releases from the government indicate that some of the fuel was uncovered for over two hours. They would not have this hydrogen reaction if they were underwater as they would not get to this temperature. This reaction occurs first then as things get hotter the fuel itself melts. While it is still a guess - it looks like they cooled things down before significant fuel melted. Though this may be just a hope. Why would radioactive iodine be venting? Normally the iodine is locked inside the zircaloy cladding. This is pretty good evidence that there are some deformed and broken fuel assemblies but like Three Mile Island no one will admit the truth till things are cooled and they take the top off and look many months from now. My heart goes out to the brave workers at the plant and the Japanese people. The plant workers may be staying in a radioactive area to cool the reactor (and stop a meltdown) and be like the workers at Chernobyl - they die weeks later from the radiation.

    The fuel rods are encased in a metal called zircaloy. It is mostly zirconium which has a very high affinity for oxygen. When the rods overheat, the zirconium steals oxygen from the surrounding steam, and hydrogen gas is produced.

    One of the major criticisms of that particular containment building design (obsolete since the 1970s) is that it has no provision for dealing with escaped hydrogen gas. I don't know how the hydrogen escapes, but it escapes not only from the reactor, but also from the containment building, and it collects in the metal superstructure that protects the fuel loading crane up on top of the containment. The explosions at the unit 1 and unit 3 reactors both blew the siding and roof off of the superstructures, but supposedly did not harm the containment. I still haven't heard details about the third explosion at the unit 2 reactor.

    I was quite amazed, but read just last week that none of the workers received fatal doses, they will probably have an increase in cancer rates. But in any case those guys are true hero's!
    Never is a long time.
    Using "the environment" to extort taxes from WORKERS and "redistribute wealth" to Socialist governments (i.e.- "entitlement" class that support them) has been going on for decades. Communists 60 years ago figured out that almost no one will complain about a government that bleeds them dry financially under the auspices of trying to "save the planet".......

    "I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."
    ~Thomas Jefferson

    Good - someone gets it. The garden variety environmentalists are useful idiots of the marxist-statists. The marxist-statists want control. That's what climate change is all about.

    Lets not forget the most potent of all greenhouse gasses, H2O. I suppose the eco-nazis will begin calling it di-hydrogen-oxide, sounds nasty doesn't it?

    Good grief, am I now supposed to feel guilty since I am an emitter of all three of these greenhouse gasses.

    Now I'm just waiting for the new push for taxing my farts, oh, wait, its already on :-)