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PCI Hughes NETL Cornell Comparison

PCI Hughes NETL Cornell Comparison

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A comparison of two conflicting studies analyzing the greenhouse gas impacts of shale gas as compared to coal.
A comparison of two conflicting studies analyzing the greenhouse gas impacts of shale gas as compared to coal.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Jul 05, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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About the Author
J. David Hughes is a geoscientist who has studied the energy resources of Canada for nearly four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and researchmanager. He developed the National Coal Inventory to determine the availability andenvironmental constraints associated with Canada’s coal resources. As team leader for unconventional gas on the Canadian Gas Potential Committee, he coordinated the recent publication of a comprehensive assessment of Canada’s unconventional natural gas potential.Over the past decade he has researched, published, and lectured widely on global energy andsustainability issues in North America and internationally. He is a board member of theAssociation for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas–Canada and is a Fellow of the Post CarbonInstitute. He recently contributed to
Carbon Shift 
, an anthology edited by Thomas Homer-Dixonon the twin issues of peak energy and climate change, and his work has been featured in
Canadian Business
and other magazines, as well as through the popular press, radio,television, and the Internet. He is currently president of a consultancy dedicated to research onenergy and sustainability issues.
This publication is a supplement to the report “Will Natural Gas Fuel America in the 21stCentury?” by J. David Hughes (Post Carbon Institute, May 2011), available online atwww.postcarbon.org/naturalgas.Copyright © 2011 by Post Carbon Institute. All rights reserved.Post Carbon InstituteSanta Rosa, California, USAwww.postcarbon.org
Two studies with conflicting conclusions have recently been produced on full-cycle greenhousegas (GHG) emissions from shale gas production, one from scientists at Cornell University andanother from a scientist at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The Cornellstudy, published in a peer-reviewed journal, suggests that lifecycle GHG emissions from shalegas are 20%-100% higher than coal on a 20-year timeframe basis, especially considering that70% of natural gas consumption is not used for electricity generation. The NETL study, presented in a talk at Cornell University and later posted on the NETL website, suggests, on anelectricity-generation comparison basis, that natural gas base load has 48% lower GHGemissions than coal on a 20-year timeframe basis. The NETL comparison, however, does notsingle out shale gas, which is projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) to be the major source of natural gas supply growth going forward, nor does it consider the overallemissions from natural gas-fired electricity generation, focusing instead on the more efficient base load combined cycle component.When the assumptions of the NETL study are examined in detail and compared to the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2009 emissions inventory for natural gas, as well as tothe likely ultimate production from shale gas wells, the resulting conclusions are not significantlydifferent than the Cornell study. Shale gas full-cycle GHG emissions are higher than those of coal when comparing both the existing electricity generating fleets and best-in-class electricitygeneration technologies for both fuels over a 20-year timeframe basis, but are lower than thoseof coal on a 100-year timeframe basis. This has significant policy implications for utilizingnatural gas as a “transition” fuel to a low carbon future in mitigating near-term GHG emissions.

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