“We see natural gas as playing an absolutely key role as a bridge fuel in transitioning to a lower-carbon economy,” BP said in 2016. The idea of fossil gas as a “bridge” from coal to renewables has been strongly promoted by the industry over recent years, and echoed also by government leaders including former U.S. President Barack Obama and EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.
Much of the debate has revolved around the issue of methane, a super-potent greenhouse gas (GHG) that is leaked and vented from the fossil gas supply chain and thereby undermines the emissions reductions of burning fossil gas in place of coal. How much methane is leaked? How much worse is it than carbon dioxide (CO2)? By how much can leakage be reduced? The answers to these questions are regularly tossed to and fro in order to defend or attack the role of fossil gas in achieving the climate goals that we so crucially need to pursue.
Given these disputes, we set methane leakage aside in this briefing and show that even in the hypothetical case of zero methane leakage, fossil gas cannot be a bridge fuel. This is not to say that the methane leakage issue is unimportant or that reducing leakage is not essential. However, it is to demonstrate that methane leakage is not the sole determinant of whether fossil gas causes net harm to the climate.
To meet climate goals, fossil gas production and consumption must, like that of other fossil fuels, be phased out, and reducing methane leakage does not alter that fact. This briefing discusses five key issues:
- No room for new fossil gas: Climate goals require the power sector to be decarbonized by mid-century. This means gas use must be phased out, not increased.
- New gas is holding back renewable energy: Wind and solar are now cheaper than coal and gas in many regions. This means new gas capacity often displaces new wind and solar rather than old coal.
- The wrong gas at the wrong time: Claims that gas supports renewable energy development are false. The cheapest gas generation technology (CCGT) is designed for baseloadoperation, not intermittent peaking. In any case, most grids are a long way from renewable energy penetration levels that would require back up. Storage and demand response will be ready to step in by the time they are really required.
- New gas locks in emissions for 40+ years: Companies building multi-billion dollar gas infrastructure today expect to operate their assets for around 40 years. Emissions goals mean this expectation cannot be met.
- Too much gas already: The coal, oil, and gas in currently producing and under construction projects is enough to exceed climate goals. Opening up new gas fields is inconsistent with the Paris goals.
Read the rest of the briefing on the Oil Change International website.