There is a great deal of discussion these days concerning the ultimate fate of natural gas. Although it's often touted as a "clean-burning" fuel compared to coal or oil, that isn't exactly true — methods of extracting and burning natural gas are both destructive and generally pollutive. Evidence and opinions on both sides of the argument have many of us wondering if natural gas will be phased out — and if so — what alternatives exist to replace it?
Will natural gas ever be phased out completely?
If natural gas is phased out entirely, it certainly won’t be immediate. According to McKinsey & Company, the exportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from North America has risen tremendously over the last few years. The prediction is that by 2023, the U.S. will be the world’s top exporters of natural gas. This is somewhat at odds with the fact that many U.S. states have begun to enact decarbonization policies to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, including natural gas.
Why do we still use natural gas?
Natural gas is used in many industrial processes, and shifting to eco-friendly alternatives is costly for businesses that rely on natural gas — so, it's a process. Transitioning is also costly to the financial interests of stakeholders, fracking companies, and natural gas companies that work to procure and disseminate that particular resource.
Economically-speaking, natural gas’ star might be on the rise, but politics and public opinion still play a huge role in its fate. According to McKinsey & Company, eco-friendly policy changes could force the issue in the coming years. The Biden Administration will likely push forward eco-conscious legislation in the same way the Trump Administration rolled back environmental protections during its brief stint in office.
Why does natural gas have to be phased out?
Natural gas hurts the environment, unlike solar or wind power, which both have proven track records in terms of effectiveness and longterm viability. According to the EIA, natural gas still produces significantly higher amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, compared to renewable energy sources.
Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, a nasty greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and global warming. As it is released, that methane flows up into the atmosphere, raising global temperatures to dangerous levels. According to InsideClimate News, scientists predict that we have until about 2030 to do something about these rising temperatures before catastrophic and potentially immutable damage is done.
When will natural gas be phased out?
To predict when this might occur, we need to make several assumptions, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The first assumption is that legislation to regulate or stop fracking, or even curtail the use of natural gas will become law in the next four years. Another assumption is that there will be a rapid transition by all major industries and countries to more sustainable forms of energy.
Finally, we must assume that the companies responsible for drilling, moving, and selling natural gas will give up. The reality of the situation, at least according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is that phasing it out entirely probably won’t happen until well after 2040.
Many gas companies rely on the fact that natural gas is supposedly cleaner than oil, but politics and public opinion will continue to rail against them until it's finally phased out entirely.
In many ways, phasing out natural gas seems like a pipe dream, but that does not mean that we should roll over and accept it as “the next best thing” to pollutive alternatives like oil and coal. If gas will continue to exist as is, as we suspect it will be, then gas companies need to clean up their acts. Yet, we cannot simply wait for gas companies to "do the right thing" and expect they will actually do it.
That said, people are still advocating for change. The Biden Administration has made many strides in terms of environmental protection and their aim is to make more. The only way for us to make a difference is by continuing to push for policy changes that eliminate natural gas. You can do this by signing petitions, joining peaceful protests, and fighting for change whenever possible.