Natural Gas vs Other Fossil Fuels

by Anne Henske

Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel when comparing the amount of carbon dioxide produced when burned. It accounts for almost half the amount of anthracite coal.[1] Natural gas also releases much less of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulates that cause smog and acid rain compared to oil and coal. In contrast, natural gas releases additional methane into the atmosphere, which is a more potent greenhouse gas.


Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas and is the primary component of natural gas. It’s lifetime in the atmosphere is short but has the capacity to trap heat about 21 times more effectively than carbon dioxide in a 100 year period.[2] Even though methane has a shorter resistance time in the atmosphere, it produces harsher climate changes within that time period.


New drilling techniques have made the extraction of natural gas more efficient. By horizontal drilling, less land is used decreasing the amount of disturbed wildlife, people and resources.[3]


Hydraulic fracturing, a recent development to extract natural gas from underground shale formations, has grown in the United States. Unconventional gas extraction has created the opportunity to reach natural gas that was once too expensive to produce. This made the U.S. become the largest natural gas producer in the world.[4] It has increased the amount of jobs for careers in engineering, surveying, and environmental law.


In conclusion, the production of natural gas is technically cleaner than coal and oil when it comes to carbon dioxide, but it releases the more harmful methane. The expansion of unconventional natural gas production has grown the nation’s economy bringing jobs and cheaper power to the people, but at what cost to climate change?



[1] “How much carbon dioxide is produced when different fuels are burned?” U.S. Energy Information Administration. Last modified June 14, 2016. Accessed November 1, 2016.

[2] “Natural Gas and the Environment.” September 20, 2013. Accessed November 1, 2016.

[3] “Natural Gas and the Environment.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. Last modified January 12, 2016. Accessed November 3, 2016.

[4] Linda Doman. “United States remains largest producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. May 23, 2016. Accessed November 1, 2016.

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