The lie that gas is ‘cleaner’

October 7, 2020
Sydney Students 4 Climate protest on September 25. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

The “gas is cleaner” lie is but one of scores of Orwellian falsehoods in look-the-other-way, neoliberal Australia.

“They” are massively lying to us by commission and omission.

It is the sheer Orwellian falsehood that I just cannot stand: remember Big Brother’s assertion in 1984 that “2 plus 2 does not equal 4”.

Australia is among world leaders in 16 areas of climate criminality. The neoliberal federal government is committed to a “coal-to-gas transition” and a post-COVID-19 pandemic “gas-led economic recovery”.

But, greenhouse gas (GHG)-wise, gas is dirtier than coal.

Methane (CH4) is a gas; it leaks. It is 85% of natural gas and has a global warming potential of 105, relative to the same mass of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a 20-year time frame (and with aerosol impacts considered).

On this basis, and assuming that natural gas is 100% CH4, or an equivalent hydrocarbon, a gas leakage of 2.6% means that the greenhouse gas (GHG) warming effect from the leaked gas is the same as that of the CO2 from burning the remaining 97.4% of the gas.

With no gas leakage, burning 1 tonne of CH4 yields 2.75 tonnes CO2 as compared to burning 1 tonne of carbon (C) yielding 3.67 tonnes of CO2.

However, suppose we have 100 tonnes (100 t) of methane (CH4) and A tonnes leaks so that:

(100 – A) tCH4  x 2.75 t CO2-equivalent / t CH4 = A t CH4 x 105 t CO2-equivalent/ t CH4

275 – 2.75A = 105 A

107.5A  = 275

A = 275/107.5

A = 2.56 or about 2.6

Thus, with a mere 2.6% of systemic gas leakage (it is about 3% in the United States), the burning of 1 tonne of gas results in 2 x 0.974 x 2.75 = 5.36 tonnes CO2-equivalent.

That means that with 2.6% systemic gas leakage, burning 1 tonne of natural gas is about 5.36/3.67 = 1.5 times dirtier GHG-wise than burning 1 tonne of coal.

Gas is dirty, not clean, energy. GHG-wise it is dirtier on a per tonne basis.

The present dangerous and deadly coal-to-gas transition argument is testament to neoliberal greed.

The falsehood that “gas is cleaner than coal GHG-wise” could be attributed to stupidity or ignorance but, in the face of expert scientific advice, even first-year high school students can see it is a lie.

[Dr Gideon Polya is a biochemist and taught science students at La Trobe University for more than four decades.]

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