Is Natural Gas a Safe “Bridge” Fuel to a Clean Energy Future? The global, regional, and local impact of natural gas emissions.


The US is moving away from coal to Natural Gas (NG). NG is composed primarily of methane, CH4. Natural Gas has been promoted as the “Bridge” fuel to 100% renewables, but is it really? In 2009 the U.S. became the worldwide leader in petroleum and natural gas production (the United States Energy Information Administration, 2018). In this project, we examined the emissions from Oil and Gas (O&G) Wells in Windsor, Co in the Denver oil and natural gas basin. Our investigation was on the potential global, regional and local impact of O&G wells. High-quality air composition measurements were taken with an instrumented van, aka the "Mobile Lab System (MLS). Over 75 Air samples were taken on 4 different days in the early morning so that: 1/surface emission plumes were not diluted by daytime mixing of the air and 2/ there would be less traffic. We took samples in neighborhoods with oil and natural gas developments. These samples were analyzed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division (NOAA ESRL GMD) laboratory using two different gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) instruments. A new procedure was used for one of the gas emissions instruments to improve the accuracy of polluted air sample VOC analysis results. From a global perspective, methane is short-lived (~10 years), but has 80 times the impact on global warming when compared to carbon dioxide. Methane, globally, has been increasing in the atmosphere at a steady rate since 2007 (Dr. G. Pétron, Oil and Gas Air Impacts, 2017). However, there is no scientific consensus at this point on what the drivers are for this recent increase. Some of the morning air samples from July 18 show high methane levels suggesting large emissions close by. The samples with high methane also have high ethane, which strongly suggests the emissions are coming from nearby O&G sources, such as oil well pads. The final conclusion from this project highlights a need for high quality, independent measurements. These independent analyses are essential to identify, quantify, mitigate and monitor risks and impacts to the public, as well as the environment. Temporal and spatial resolution is essential to the scientific research and/or investigation for human health and safety, in addition to the global, regional and local environmental impact of oil and natural gas as a “bridge” fuel.


Business Analytics | Environmental Education | Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Monitoring | Mining Engineering | Oil, Gas, and Energy | Outdoor Education | Sustainability


Gaby Petron

Lab site

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Laboratory (NOAA ESRL)

Funding Acknowledgement

S.D. Bechtel Jr Foundation, Chevron, The National Science Foundation, HHMI, NOAA

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