David Suzuki: Natural gas is not a solution for climate change

Can a fossil fuel help us avoid the harmful effects of other fossil fuels? It’s a question that’s come up lately as natural gas is eyed as a cleaner alternative to oil and coal.

Burning coal and oil causes pollution and emits greenhouse gases that drive climate change. Exploring and drilling for oil and mining coal also come with numerous environmental impacts—especially as easily accessible oil runs out and we have to rely on deep-water drilling and oil sands. Natural gas burns cleaner than oil and coal, and it emits less carbon dioxide for the amount of energy it produces. This has led industry and governments to argue for an increase in natural gas production.

Canada is the world’s third largest producer of natural gas, behind Russia and the United States. Although overall production has been declining here, new sources and methods for exploiting “unconventional” natural gas reserves, such as shale gas, have led industry and government officials to argue that gas could play a role as a “bridging” fuel to kick-start near-term reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

It’s not that simple, though, especially when we consider the impacts of unconventional natural gas, along with extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. A report by the David Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute, “Is natural gas a climate change solution for Canada?” examines the key issues around natural gas and reaches surprising conclusions.

Extracting gas from shale deposits, for example, requires up to 100 times the number of well pads to get the same amount of gas as conventional sources. Imagine the disruption in farm or cottage country of one well pad (comprising multiple wells) roughly every 2.5 square kilometres. Each well pad occupies an area of about one hectare, and also requires access roads and pipeline infrastructure.

The method known as fracking has also been in the news a lot. Fracking has been used to extract gas since the late 1940s, although producers only began combining it with horizontal drilling to exploit unconventional gas resources in the past decade. With this process, water, sand, and chemicals are pumped at high pressure into rock formations deep in the Earth to fracture the rock, allowing the gas to escape and flow into the wells.

Fracking requires enormous amounts of water and uses chemicals that can be toxic. Companies are not required to disclose the chemicals they use for fracking in Canada and some parts of the U.S. The process can also release methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide, into the air.

The non-climate environmental impacts of gas extraction alone are enough to give us pause. But the natural gas study also concludes that it is not a good way to fight climate change.

To begin, although it is cleaner than oil and coal, burning natural gas still produces greenhouse gas emissions, as does the industrial activity required to get it out of the ground. Greater investments in natural gas development may also slow investment in renewable energy. Would owners of gas-fired power plants built in the next few years willingly cease to operate them—or accept the costs of capturing and storing carbon emissions—as the push for deeper greenhouse gas reductions increases?

The real solutions to climate change lie with conservation and renewable energy, such as solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal power.

But because natural gas will be with us for the foreseeable future, we must do all we can to clean up practices associated with it as well. The report recommends requiring industry to disclose the chemicals used in fracking and calls for better regulation and monitoring. Right now, natural gas is exempt from normal provincial environmental assessment processes. Clearly, that must change.

It’s also time for our federal government to take climate change seriously and to develop realistic plans to reduce emissions. That includes implementing an economy-wide price on greenhouse gas emissions, either through cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or both, covering as many sources as possible. Although pricing emissions might initially prompt extra gas use in some parts of the economy, models show that will be outweighed by other changes like energy efficiency.

Climate change is a serious problem. Getting off fossil fuels is the best solution.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Comments (36) Add New Comment
Niclas Alsop
Another Excellent article by our ageless crusader!
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bouan
We all exhale CO2. Maybe we just have too many people on the planet.
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Robert Kroeker
This may be true, but I get very tired of hearing this guy rant. He is a celebrity spokesperson, not an expert. He is speaking as a broadcaster, not a scientist. If he expects us to respect his opinion because of his Ph. D., he is committing academic fraud for the reason that his earned credential is not in a relevant field, i.e. Zoology not climate change or resource management. It is true that he was talking of climate change 25 years ago, but back then he was predicting another ice age.
If Dr. Suzuki was willing to give up his 80 acre private estate on Saltspring Island, his homes in 2 major Canadian cities, and his jet commutes back and forth I might take him a little more seriously. Purchasing carbon credits doesn't give you and the wealthy elite the right to pollute as much as you like, David.
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NoLeftNutter
More ghost written, scare mongering from the fruit fly eco-whore. And, scare mongering has been good for business. Annual DSF donations have almost doubled since 2006 - more houses and plane trips for DS, all in the name of saving the planet.
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Iggy
Boan,
no offence, but that overpopulation apporach is conflictive, cuze we would need to make a desision of who must disembark the globe first, you or the rest... that's akind of right theory to justify atrocities in our globe... jsut a thought...
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Fan'o Truth
If natural gas is substituted for gasoline and deisel in vehicle or other transport it would seem to me that there's likely a significant gain in terms of lower GHGs and other pollutants. The renewables in the article (solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal) are all electrical generation methods, which is not as adaptable to transportation where significant power is needed. BC tried an electrified rail line at Tumbler Ridge, and gave it up.
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NoRightWingNeoConSheep
Another logical & Scientific basis to lower GHG emissions.

But Climate change deniers & the Far Right Wing Neo-Cons will never accept nor change the current Big Oil / Corporate Welfare model until Oil literally runs out.

By which time our Oceans will have turned to Carbonic Acid thus destroying all life on the planet.

The only hope both Environmentally & Economically is for a complete shift to Solar, Wind, Hydro & other alternative Energy for security & a viable economic future.

In Canada the Feds Rebate Big Oil companies with your Tax dollars to the tune of Billions a year back to Alberta based Multi-National Oil Corporations.
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Goldorak
Let's stop Fortis service to the Suzuki home this winter and watch... LOL
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Peter Mielke
You state "Extracting gas from shale deposits, for example, requires up to 100 times the number of well pads to get the same amount of gas as conventional sources."

If that were true then it would not be economically viable and with the price of natural gas currently why would a company even bother. Where is your proof of this?
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NoRightWingNeoConSheep
@Peter Mielke...

Where is YOUR DATA that says drilling up to 100 Well Pads is NOT Economically viable?

How much does it cost to drill additional well heads with a known rate of return when you ALREADY have equipment & labor there drilling the initial Well.

Economics 101 each additional unit costs drops furthermore WHERE IS YOUR DATA!
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Mark Fornataro
Global warming deniers should get their heads out of the oilsand and take a look at this:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2011/07/20/nl-giant-ice-island-7.... And read Merchants of Doubt, about the propagandists funded by the corporate interests they are supporting in areas such as global warming denying, as well as support of the tobacco industry. All of the same ilk. Some of you posters need to wake up! David Suzuki and
NoRightWingNeoConSheep are simply telling it like it is.
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Mac
The earth being millions plus years old. Way before man ever inhabited it. Wonder how many times weather patterns whatever have changed. How much does one volcanic activity suppose destroy our atmosphere. Then the ash settles in the ground and mother nature takes over. Example Mt. St. Helens when was it 30 years ago. For some time now mother nature took over the forest are back and fish in the lake go figure. Like they only have started tests some 50 or so years ago. I think this old earth will be around after mankind is instinct. Fact humanity will destroy themselves long before there is any air left. So we should start looking at peacefull solutions to live with each other then worry about the sky falling.
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Killian O'Brien
Logical Fallacy: Suzuki isn't a climate scientist so he cannot speak on the topic.

Reality: This is not a scientific paper, nor is it technically difficult. This article could be written by any person with a passing understanding of climate and energy issues.

Logical Fallacy: Suzuki uses energy, so nothing he says or does is valid.

Reality: While I agree carbon offsets are not a long-term solution, they are a step. Also, does the critic know the total of efforts Suzuki is making or plans to make?

Regardless, even if a hypocrite, everything he stated is true. It is a logical failure to ignore truth because you don't like the person speaking it.
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scissorpaws
The question is no longer if the climate will get bad, the questions is how bad will it get. You might want to apologize to your children and grandchildren now. This is a society that annually spends 100 billion dollars on bottled water because we've too much money and could care less about the tons of plastic garbage we produce. For 30 billion dollars every person on the planet could have potable water, a dream for much of Africa and South America. There are technologies that could allow people in the tropics to cook their food with solar reflectors and even cool their houses, drastically reducing deforestation while reducing greenhouse gasses. Deep earth geothermal is non-polluting energy that would cost significantly less than nuclear and last forever and is achievable anywhere on earth.

A truly intelligent, enlightened species wouldn't play craps with the only planet it had, it would be spending whatever was required to switch to a hydrogen economy. Forget batteries. Hydrogen can be generated from any electricity source without the use of rare earth metals, can be piped around in systems set up for natural gas, can be pumped into and burned in standard cars. It can heat your home and cool your food. Once set up it can only get better as more sources of electricity come on line. It can be pressurized a la natural gas and shipped around the world. It can send a man to the moon or your SUV to the 7-11. We need serious leadership to promote hydrogen as the least wasteful, genuinely renewable fuel for the future. We need governments to lay in the infrastructure and industry will leap on board.
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dread nugent
If Suzuki and his crew were serious about saving the planet ,, they would get behind and promote one child repo policies... mass sterilization programs .. and committing to allow 3rd world starvation to continue unaided ... 7 billion people ... needs to be culled to about a billion max ...
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dread unich
Lets start the cull with dread nugent :)
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Culler
Lets start Culling with dread nugent :)
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Saving the Planet
Climate change is going to do more than just change the way we live but our relationships with other countries around the world and who is the biggest villian when it comes to environmential damage. It will get intense because Canada is a hot spot when its comes to climate change controversay and I see little in the works to see that about to change. .In fact things are about to get a whole lot worst with plans of transporting tar sands to China are still full evironmential contamination ahead as China is buying up another tar sands as we speak. And lets face it China isn't buying the tar sands to sell to the US but for Chinese consumers, no doubt despite promises of that not happening. Remember the HST promise? And although emptying people's pockets isn't the end contaminating the waters would be. ( Edmonton is busy investigating another pipeleak that just happened this wk) I believe this is the third in just over a year..
IS BC getting its own pipelines and how often do you think it will burst? And it isn't like BC has an environmential assessement office that does
that kinda work keeping on top of major projects that could cause considerable environmential damage. Edmonton's 3rd spill in a year and put together are being compared to Lake Michgan without any real clean up as Premier of Alberta is upset about the lousy job being done cleaning up the spills. Fracking is no better as those in Montreal want the fracking to stop because once the damage is done there is no going the damage that is being done.
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Juan Luna Ibarrizto
Instead of wasting time on no-brainer topics like this, I would like to ask the good Dr Suzuki to use his international stature to advocate that the City of Victoria construct or put up a sewage treatment plant instead of dumping its raw sewage into the Georgia Straight thereby polluting the oysters, salmon and other sea food that we all eat and enjoy.
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Fan'o Truth
David Suzuki is making his third Liberal endorsement, backing Dalton McGuinty as he did Stephane Dion and Gordon Campbell. As in the 2008 federal and 2009 BC provincial elections, Suzuki's target in the October 6th Ontario election is the NDP.



Suzuki warns Tory scheme to cancel green energy plans is ”˜absolute insanity
Published on Thu Jul 21 2011

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1028008--suzuki-warn...

“In an exclusive interview with the Star, Suzuki made a rare foray into partisan politics,”¦”



Liberals print thousands of flyers attacking NDP on environment
Published on Thu Jul 21 2011

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1028281--liberals-pr...

“Liberals eager to keep power after the Oct. 6 election will fan out at Toronto subway stations during Friday morning’s rush hour to hand out flyers saying the NDP “abandons the environment.”

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