Mar 26, 2010

Keeping emissions underground


I was intrigued by a quote in a recent Globe Foundation report on BC’s green economy that BC has 1000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, a “low carbon resource opportunity for both transportation and for export to other economies around the world.” Converting to metric, and using BC government emission factors for combusting natural gas, this would be 55.8 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 awaiting its release into the atmosphere.

To put that number in perspective, this is almost double the world’s annual CO2 emissions. And I’m pretty sure that does not count additional reserves that could become available due to a massively environmentally damaging process called “fracking” (I kid you not, lovers of Battlestar Galactica).

Ironically, the Globe report categorizes these natural gas reserves under Green Natural Resource Opportunities. Which brings us back to CCS. If carbon capture and storage technologies can be successfully implemented over the lifecycle of this extracted natural gas, including where it is combusted, there might be a case to be made for their extraction.

But that seems like a big if, especially given all of the other bona fide green energy opportunities that could be tapped. Why invest so much in retrofitting coal plants for natural gas when we could be building out wind, water and solar technologies? Some work by Jacobson and Delucchi makes the case for renewables by 2030, and they have an extensive and rigorous analysis to back it up. They do not consider any combustion (CCS or biofuels) in their approach, which makes their technological, resource and economic assessment even more interesting. And they note that even with CCS, coal-fired electricity has way higher lifecycle emissions than any renewable (best in class is wind, in their estimation).

The only decent argument to be had for natural gas is that, as the “cleanest” of all fossil fuels, it could be a transition fuel en route to truly sustainable sources. But the counter-argument to that is the sheer urgency of getting over our addiction to fossil fuels necessitates much bolder action, so it is better to spearhead an aggressive switch directly to renewables.