Just How Clean is Natural Gas?
by Cam Mather
The natural gas industry has done a good job at public relations. They have successfully convinced Canadians that natural gas is a “green” way to heat their homes. Their advertising has convinced us that natural gas is “clean” and benign. While it is certainly true that natural gas is a more responsible way to heat than say, burning coal, it is by no means good for the climate.
My holiday reading list included a book called “Stupid to the Last Drop” by William Marsden. I had already read “Tar Sands” and “Saboteur” by Andrew Nikiforuk and these books share the same theme when it comes to natural gas. First off, Canada is running out of it and quickly. Our traditional natural gas reserves are in steep decline which has forced companies to look at the less economic “coal bed methane.” According to the Canada Gas Association at current rates of consumption we have about 6 or 7 years of conventional natural gas left. That’s of course if the tar sands don’t suck up more than they do right now. Currently about 6 million homes in Canada are heated with natural gas, and the gas used by the tar sands would heat another 3 million. Of course there is talk of quadrupling the output of the tar sands, which doesn’t bode well for the cost of heating your home.
In the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, which includes parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta and part of British Columbia, 40% of our natural gas actually comes from “sour gas” or hydrogen sulfide. This is a powerful toxic chemical that kills quickly and has been associated with a number of adverse affects on people who live the area where it’s drilled. We often hear about natural gas pipelines being blown up by opponents but the mainstream media doesn’t often provide the context of these activities. Sour gas has a hugely negative impact on peoples’ lives and in a province like Alberta there is very little recourse for people impacted by natural gas drilling.
Now that traditional natural gas is in decline companies are aggressively pursuing “coal bed methane” (CBM). You’ve probably heard of coal mine explosions that were caused by the build up of methane gas, which is basically natural gas. Coal beds underlie much of Alberta and drilling companies drill into these coal beds and fracture the rock to try and release the methane. They use a variety of methods to fracture the rock from pumping in everything from diesel fuel to nitrogen gas. This has a negative effect on homes and especially water wells in the area as these materials can work their way into local water supplies.
Whether it’s coal bed methane or sour gas, using natural gas has a negative effect on the people where it is extracted from the ground. Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and older abandoned wells can continue to vent methane in to the atmosphere. Let’s not forget that when you burn natural gas you release carbon dioxide, so you are taking C02 that has been sequestered in the ground for millions of years and releasing it into the atmosphere.
So whether you are concerned about our climate, concerned about the impact of natural gas extraction on the people where it is drilled and pumped, or concerned about the inevitable price increase as supplies run down, it’s time to get off natural gas.
Your first step is to install a solar domestic hot water (SDHW) heating system that will reduce your use of natural gas for hot water by up to 60%. Next you should consider a ground source heat pump or “geothermal” heating for your home. This system uses the heat in the ground to heat your home. Once you’ve installed a ground source heat pump you’ll never have to purchase natural gas again for heat. You will still need to purchase electricity to pump the liquid through the system, but you can purchase this through a green energy supplier to ensure that its produced with wind or other renewable energy.
The Canadian Government, through its EcoEnergy Audit program, offers a rebate of $2,500 on a SDHW system and $7,500 on the installation of a geothermal. They won’t come out and tell Canadians that the writing is on the wall for natural gas in the country; they just offer fantastic rebates like this to try and get people to switch. The US government also offers incentives to get off natural gas. Don’t wait for the next winter when natural gas spikes or is in short supply. Get going on these systems now. They will help you to “Thrive During Challenging Times” ahead.
This comment was made on the “About Us” page but I thought I would include the important information here. (Thanks to Jeff Goodman)
“The rebate for geothermal is presently $8750+ but that’s a combined federal / Ontario rebate. I think SK offers the same. I think the other provinces have a lower total rebate, maybe federal only ($4350?). This program is presently expected to end March 31, 2011, all work and the follow-up visit to be completed by then – so people should move on this now if they want this rebate (and who wouldn’t?). A friend of mine in Maryland USA got much more than this amount.
Federal / Ontario Combined Rebates: http://www.mei.gov.on.ca/en/pdf/conservation/homeenergy/OHESP_Brochure_English.pdf ”