UK onshore natural gas is the lowest carbon natural gas possible: Shop Local First

Sometime soon, the  UK will  import LNG produced from US shale gas.  Shale gas is over 60% of all US production, and over 90% of new wells use the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  It is no longer “unconventional” or “controversial” and is predicted to provide 70% of global natural gas production by 2040.

US LNG will have a carbon intensity  (CI) approaching, and possibly exceeding that of coal when used in electricity generation.  But gas from everywhere else – even as close as the UK North Sea- will also have a demonstrably higher CI.  In short,  the opposition of groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and The Green Party to local production of UK onshore natural gas, contrary to what they strongly believe, causes significant  increases  in  CO2 emissions on a local, national and global basis.

The  key metric is CO2 emissions. The following figures come  from an internal EU study of the CI of various streams of gas when used for vehicles, but the same applies for gas in generation, industry or heat.

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“In general, the CI(Carbon Intensity) is high in gas streams related to long pipelines and/or long distances of transport in the form of LNG, and/or high methane fugitive emissions; therefore the CI of the Russian gas, which is the most significant gas importing stream in the EU, is calculated in the range of 29 to 40 grCO2eq/MJ depending on the EU region directed”

The CI of US LNG is potentially even greater than the CI of either Qatari LNG or Russian long distance pipeline gas alone, as it is the result of not only a 14 day 7900 KM voyage, but additional distances of transporting gas to the Sabine Pass LNG export terminal. (Gas is pushed down pipelines by jet engine based compressors placed every 100KM or so).  The Sabine Pass terminal on the Gulf of Mexico  is on the doorstep of abundant natural gas resources itself, but the links will show that contracts are already in place to pipe gas from as far away as Alberta and Pennsylvania to the terminal.

Pipeline distance from Pennsylvania to Sabine Pass Texas LNG export Terminal 2400 KM

The addition of bidirectional capacity at Transco and other major interstate pipelines will allow Sabine Pass and other US Gulf coast LNG export terminals to access significant gas volumes from the prolific Marcellus shale field centered in Pennsylvania.

Pipeline distance from Grand Prairie Alberta to Sabine Pass Texas LNG export Terminal 4100 KM

Cheniere Energy Inc. said Tuesday that it’ll receive supplies from the Montney shale play, which straddles Alberta and British Columbia. It’s part of the company’s strategy to tap into different supply basins after opening up its landmark LNG export terminal at Sabine Pass in Louisiana a year ago, with another due to start in Texas in 2019

Pipeline distances to UK (from Google Earth), shipping distances from

Yamal Russia: 6,400KM

Qatar LNG travels 11,280 KM to Milford Haven

Sabine LNG travels 9,072 KM to Grain (Medway Ports)

The study found that Netherlands Onshore  gas has a CI of 6.57. compared to a weighted all source CI for the UK of 11.45.  It would be reasonable to assume that UK onshore CI would be broadly similar to the Netherlands onshore.  And yes, before someone digs up that old chestnut, the vast majority of studies agree that there is nothing intrinsic to the shale gas process, especially  for the UK onshore, that results in higher methane emissions  from shale compared to what was once called conventional gas production.

The net result is that opposition to UK onshore gas results in  a higher Carbon Intensity, not a lower  one.  In this table, CI for Pennsylvania and Alberta Gas is determined as percentage of the Russian gas pipeline intensity to the Gulf of Mexico and then added to the  shipping distance CI compared to the Qatar LNG to Europe.

CI: Carbon intensity UK grCO2eq/MJ
Netherlands Onshore 6.57
UK (North Sea, Norway and LNG) 11.45
Qatar LNG 23.87
Russia 28.77
US LNG (Alberta) 38.56
US LNG at terminal 19.0
US LNG Pennsylvania 30.5

US LNG computed as 80% of sea distance of Qatar 

+ 68% percentage of pipeline distance Russia to NW Europe for Alberta 

 + 40% pipeline distance (11.5) Pennsylvania)

At the end of 2017, Marcellus Gas will be transported from Cove Point Maryland. That will have a far lower CI based on negligible pipeline  to terminal miles  and seaborne miles to UK.

As Friends of the Earth put it in one of their campaigns “Shop Local First” . The nearest product is generally the most sustainable and lowest carbon. That’s true in milk, eggs, bread – and natural gas.

8. Why is this important for the environment? Transport – the rise of the supermarkets, with their centralised distribution systems, global sourcing and their emphasis on processed food offerings, has created far more ‘food miles’ than ever before. This means more climate change gas emissions, local pollutants, roadbuilding and congestion.1 Over the last decade, the distance that food travels before it reaches shoppers has increased, and the amount being imported have tripled by volume since 1980.

Production of London’s oil and gas resources will have the shortest well head to burner tip distance of all. The gas that cooks the food will come from far closer than almost anything on the table.

Time to put ourselves on a low-carb diet?


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