Debunking the myth that natural gas is clean

Published March 2, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin



Elinando B. Cinco
Elinando B. Cinco

An avid fan of the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters, I also personally take it upon myself to challenge certain preconceived notions, especially when it comes to matters of science.

Because I am also a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I always do my own sleuthing work when it comes to business, replicating much of what the Old London detective did.

In terms of industry, I am particularly fascinated with the energy sector and the power industry, because they are a key in driving the country’s economy and infrastructure.

Just before the end of last week, the public statement of Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya para saMamayan (AGHAM) debunking the myth of natural gas as clean caught my attention. It was quite an eye-opener for me and offered a new perspective on gas.

At first I was curious, but after I checked on their facts, and did my own research, I could attest to their claims.

AGHAM President Angelo B. Palmones reacted  to a Fitch Solutions Macro Research study flagging the country’s lack of focus on clean energy development in its long-term energy plan, particularly in the development of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Agham went on to say that LNG is not clean, and not a bridge to cleaner energy.

I found this especially interesting because of the recent strategies of energy companies such as First Gen and First Gas to sustain and even add to the gas portfolio of the Philippine energy mix.  With Agham debunking the myth that natural gas is clean, these gas-centric generation companies must rethink and reevaluate their strategy.

It is evident that the Philippines should not invest too much in natural gas because, unknown to many, this is also harmful to the environment.

I was amused by Agham’s simple analogy describing natural gas, or methane gas as ‘CO2 on steroids’. Catchy, but it makes perfect sense. Likening the two was a metaphorical jackpot.

Studies show that natural gas, or methane gas, is a fossil fuel like coal and oil and may produce the same amount or even higher Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions than other fossil fuels.

All methane-based gas emits carbon dioxide (CO2) when it is combusted.  Methane leakage throughout the entire gas supply chain creates additional climate impacts.

AGHAM said that “contrary to popular belief, natural or methane gas is not as clean as it has been made out to be. The Philippines’ power industry has underestimated methane emissions and it is absolutely vital that we should look at the full-life cycle of natural gas and not just at the point of combustion.”

“From drilling, fracking, transportation, storage all the way to the point that the energy reaches the consumers, there is already a lot of methane leakage occurring, both unintentional or fugitive, and intentional, referred to as venting. These leaks are hazardous to the environment,” the group added.

Personally, I do believe that the Philippines should work on pursuing cleaner energy sources, but it is the responsible thing to do and very much crucial task to look in the right directions.

There is no escaping due diligence and hard work. More research must be done because the science behind it all is showing that LNG or methane gas may not be the best option.

There may be a better, greener, more efficient and more sustainable answer to the challenges of transitioning to a genuinely clean energy future.

Palmones is spot on in suggesting that it is crucial to conduct a deeper analysis of the data at hand. Studies show that an in-depth examination on the full impact of natural gas, it can be concluded that it is not substantially better for the climate than coal. In fact, under some circumstances, it may even be worse.

LNG is just as harmful to the environment as other fossil fuels. Obviously, it is not a better alternative for renewable energy.

Here’s another issue that must be given closer study: All contracts with LNG power plants practice the take-or-pay provision, which means that even if the power plant does not produce electricity, consumers are forced to pay for the gas supply. We come out as the losers in this equation.

That is bad news for consumers. In the past, it has unfortunately led to billions of pesos in payment for undelivered power which is in turn passed on to consumers as additional cost. This is another reason Agham is hesitant to fully endorse natural gas, as this may lead to higher power costs.

There is a need for the country to always keep the Paris Agreement in mind. It is our best guide to ensure we stay the course. If we remain stubborn and continue to push for gas, we will be breaking the carbon budget, and this will be inconsistent with the climate goals set before us.

In conclusion, before more gas power plants are built in the Philippines, chaining us to emissions for years ahead, more in-depth studies must be conducted by the government to assess the scientific impact of LNG on Mother Earth. Then maybe we can achieve true sustainability.