Using natural gas is simply sound practice

Coal, on the other hand, produces a binder full of nasty bits of chemistry

I’ve done a lot of thinking, reading and listening about liquid natural gas (LNG) over the past couple of years and none of it has been easy.

Some of my self-conversations and debates have been quite intense (no, I’m not slipping over the edge, all of us have self-conversations). Natural gas, the gaseous parent of LNG, happens to be relatively clean as far as petroleum products go.

Its energy density (the amount of energy in a given volume) is high, and unlike oil and coal it doesn’t produce a whole lot of flue gas contaminants apart from carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides.

Coal, on the other hand, produces a binder full of nasty bits of chemistry when we burn it and yet coal still produces about 40 per cent of the world’s electricity. It is that electricity that will charge the world’s electric cars, an irony that some of us may miss.

Most of us have fairly close relationships with natural gas. It heats many of our homes, cooks our food and is a primary resource used in the manufacture of plastics and resins and heaven knows, plastics are ubiquitous in our society.

But, less obvious, and perhaps more important it is effective as a ‘transition fuel’ that is critical to weaning industries, especially our power generating industries, off coal. Burning natural gas is without a doubt much more preferable to burning coal; it is just that much cleaner.

That isn’t to say that natural gas (methane for the most part) isn’t without problems. However, they stem not so much from burning the stuff, but from the extraction and transport of it. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas before it is burned and leaking pipes, valves, joints, well heads, etc., are serious, but not impossible problems.

Then there are the issues surrounding the fracking that is used to extract some natural gas reserves from the rock in which it is locked. The arguments and science surrounding the efficacy of fracking primarily lead back to water and again are not a joke. Protecting our water supply is a critical responsibility and requires proper oversight from properly funded, staffed and empowered government agencies.

Canada has vast reserves of natural gas and utilizing some of it to replace coal fired generating plants in the Far East is simply sound practice.

China, according to Forbes, is a high cost producer of natural gas because they, unlike Canada, do not have any single, giant fields of natural gas – their available fields are unevenly distributed and they are often remote from the centres where they are needed.

The Chinese demand for natural gas has also grown well beyond even the most generous predictions. In 2015, China consumed 35 per cent more natural gas than was predicted in the U.S. Energy Information Assessment’s 2010 predictions. China wants and needs natural gas.

We have all seen the videos of smog in Chinese manufacturing centres, reminiscent of the Great London Smog of 1952. According to Renyi Zhang, a scientist at Texas A&M University who studies smogs, the London cloud was a lethal mixture of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ammonia that together formed sulphuric acid.

The chemical soup was a product of industry, vehicles, and agriculture and it killed approximately 15,000 souls and put another 150,000 in the hospital.

The Chinese smogs are chemically very similar – estimates put the air pollution-related deaths in China at about 1.1 million per year. That’s an awful toll and the Chinese are only too aware of its implications. According to Nature Climate Change (2014), they are aggressively moving their power production away from coal and a primary alternative for them is natural gas.

Lest you think that this is only a Chinese problem, ponder the fact that the pollution that so frequently hovers over both Chinese and Indian manufacturing centres moves. It travels with the winds that circulate the air we breathe around the world.

Air is truly global. In March, 2017, US National Public Radio reported that while air pollution is dropping in the U.S., it is increasing in Western states due to pollution from China and India. What happens in those countries matters everywhere, and particularly where we live – just take not of the direction of the prevailing winds.. We cannot climb into a shell and do nothing.

So, that brings us, like the winds, full circle back to LNG. If LNG from Canada can help clean the air of Chinese manufacturing centres until we can implement even more efficacious energy solutions then how can I object? I can’t.

Am I concerned about fracking and leaking pipes? Indeed I am. But we cannot argue, “not in my back yard”. Cleaning our air is a global project and every little bit counts, and right now cleaning China’s air and cleaning our air are, in many ways, the same endeavour.