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    Gas is Good, But What About Climate Change?



Natural gas used to be an ally of environmentalists, according to Global Policy Director at WWF, Stephan Singer, who says he believes we could have fundamentally clean shale gas, but that does not solve the issue of the carbon debt.

by: Drew Leifheit

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Natural Gas & LNG News, Shale Gas , Environment

Gas is Good, But What About Climate Change?

“It’s not just an issue of Europe and North America but a global phenomenon, it’s a global reserve,” explained Stephan Singer.


The Global Policy Director at WWF, he showed the audience at the European Unconventional Gas Summit in Krakow, Poland a slide of global shale gas reservoirs, according to the EIA


“You’ll see it in China and Eastern Europe as well,” he added.


The likely decline of the price of natural gas on the global market, he said, would have an effect on Europe, there would be changes in the oil-gas price linkage, and gas consumption looked to double in the period 2000-35. 


“Gas will take a certain part of coal away, and will have impact on nuclear and renewables - unfortunately - as well,” he explained. “Everywhere gas is set to grow substantively based on the perceived gas glut we see worldwide.”


Explaining that WWF was the largest private NGO worldwide, with offices in Poland and around the globe, Singer said environmentalist had traditionally seen natural gas as a low carbon and clean fuel - definitely the cleanest fossil fuel.


“It’s the most flexible fuel as a renewable power back up, and is used with the variable use of solar and wind. It is considered a bridge fuel,” he noted.


“These characteristics have made natural gas a natural ally of environmentalists and renewables industry.”


In terms of the environmental impacts of unconventional gas, Mr. Singer said he would not talk about those, but pointed out the need to address things like land use, water use, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the lifecycle.


According to him, the “end of pipe” issues for shale gas could, in theory, be solved. 


He continued: “I believe you could have fundamentally clean shale gas, but that does not solve the issue of the carbon debt.”


Mr. Singer showed the IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas” Scenario to illustrate his point.


“A change to gas will not help us solve the climate problem,” he said. “The lower price of gas will lead to an increase in demand.”


He asked what a “two degree” target meant and answered his query.


“To stay within a fixed amount of carbon to be emitted by everyone. We have done a simple assessment which shows a very steep decline of allowable emissions. If you want to stay below global warming you have to have a steep decline of emissions.”


That meant, said Singer, retiring about 85% of all known conventional fossil fuel recoverable reserves by 2050.


“What is going to be retired? Shale gas certainly adds to the reserve base.”


He continued: “The amount of unconventional oil and unconventional gas is already outpacing the amount of conventional oil and gas. They are not all fully economically exploitable, but it is recoverable.


“Unconventional gas would allow us to use gas for the next 250 years in theory,” he said.


If one looked at everything in terms of hydrocarbon resources - oil, gas, coal - in terms of carbons stocks emitted into the atmosphere, hydrocarbons were abundant.


Mr. Singer said WWF had developed a worldwide vision of no use of fossil fuels anywhere by 2050, in which gas had a role to play as a transition fuel, but with a caveat.


“We believe there’s already enough carbon out there and shale gas will increase the carbon resource base and could exceed the two degree threshold,” he said, adding that price decreases for natural gas could negatively impact on renewable energy.


In the same conference session in Krakow, panelists also grappled with the question “How important is the global climate protection strategy to Europe?”


“Looking to the US it looks like we are going back to expanding fossil fuels,” said the Centre for European Security Strategies’ Dr. Frank Umbach. “In China and India, it shouldn’t constrain our economic development. We can’t afford the same energy policies there as in Germany.”


The global climate policies had lost some momentum, according to him.


“An issue doesn’t go away because people stopped talking about it,” replied Stephan Singer, who recognized a fatigue on the issue. “Climate change will be an issue which will come up again. The fatigue is at the UN level.”


He noted the astonishing movements towards clean air legislation that had been seen.


“Domestic energy issues are very often decoupled,” he said. “Look to Mexico, or South Africa, which had a strong coal basis. Now there’s a strong mandate for renewables.”


Singer added that there had been a 30% growth in spending on renewables despite the economic crisis. “There is a confident shift towards clean energy on a global basis.”


“Doing nothing is not an option,” said John Broderick, Research Fellow at the Tyndall Centre. He said that according to Oxford Climate Group research, a 4 degree warming of global temperatures could happen by 2060.


“If shale gas is successful in Europe you’ll barely have time to take a breath,” said Mihai Tomescu, a Chief Economist at the European Commission DG ENV. “The question is how can we square our carbon reductions with our addiction to fossil fuels?”


ExxonMobil’s Jim Johnston said his company’s projections were in agreement with others. “In OECD countries emissions are dropping because of efficiency improvements. In 2030 those countries will have made dramatic decreases and fossil fuels will still make up 70% of the energy mix.”


He said there was a need to be focusing on an adaptation strategy.


Mr. Singer offered what he said was a substantive financial projection. “We have assumed that going to 100% renewables worldwide would cost 1-2% of global GDP, and that’s substantive. But the payback is through savings in energy costs in 25 years. 


“We are currently facing the need for a type of industrial revolution. Those who can pay the bill should pay a major share of it,” he added.