As already experienced by western European cities, switching to natural gas rather than coal will impact the environment positively. Natural gas and low-sulpher oils for household heating is already improving environmental conditions by reducing the impact on landscape from coal mining, pollution created from coal treatment, and ash storage. Eastern European countries still using Lignite, a low-grade brown coal, experience high emissions of sulphur oxides, carbon, nitrogen, and hydrocarbons, and heavy metals, which are non-existent or greatly reduced with natural gas. With a perspective of environmental protection, the positives of natural gas that Western Europeans are already witnessing can make a global environmental impact in comparison to other fossil fuels.
The United States already has the largest network of natural gas pipelines in the world, established by several hundred pipeline companies like El Paso Pipeline, Chevron, and Western Pipeline Corporation, but our coal energy usage is currently far greater. Both coal and natural gas are not considered renewable resources, but coal is far worse for the environment both in transport and when burned. Natural gas pipelines are buried beneath the ground surrounded by a protective coating as well as a myriad of government regulations. Once a pipe is buried it has zero landscape impact. The only substantial impact of natural gas is produced when customers actually use the product. Even at this time, however, the benefits of natural gas far outweigh those of other fossil fuels. Natural gas produces very low, even negligible quantities of sulphur dioxide and particulates. The levels of hydrocarbons and monoxide are also much lower.
The only negative to natural gas usage is the production of nitrogen oxides, which are produced by every fuel that goes through the combustion process. Even this emission is less harmful than those emitted by other fossil fuels because there are no nitrogenous substances present in natural gas. The nitrogen oxides produced in natural gas combustion can only form from atmospheric nitrogen and is variable according to the combustion process. Manufacturers can actually reduce this emission by devising new combustion chambers and burner designs. These inventive improvements to the combustion of natural gas have already reduced the emission of nitrogen oxides by 10%.
Of course the most common emission among all fossil fuels is carbon dioxide, which has been designated by many scientists to be a primary contributor to global warming. Natural gas is no exception to carbon emission, but it is unchallenged in levels of emissions in comparison to any other fuel source, with almost 50% less CO2 emission than solid fuels and 35% less than liquid fuels.
In an age where the human race is avidly considering the source of future energy and its impact on the global environment, natural gas will be a fundamental player in greatly reducing the impact of fuel while continuing to accommodate the need for energy on a massive level.
About the Author: Bob Jent is the CEO of Western Pipeline Corporation. Western Pipeline Corp is a successful, private independent producer of oil and natural gas.