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Last updated: 28 February 2024

The True Cost of Gas: Environmental Impact and Future Trends

Gas flaring is highly impactful to the environment

Gas, a fossil fuel primarily composed of methane, has been a subject of environmental concern due to its impact on climate change. While it is considered the cleanest burning fossil fuel, natural gas extraction, production, and combustion release significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)

These emissions contribute to the enhanced greenhouse effect, the primary driver of global warming and climate change

In 2021, energy-related CO2 emissions reached an all-time high of 40.8 Gt of CO2 equivalent, with gas flaring accounting for 0.7%. However, the narrative is somewhat bleak. In 2022, CO2 emissions from natural gas fell by 1.6% or 118 Mt, with pronounced reductions in Europe and the Asia Pacific region. 

Despite its reputation as a ‘cleaner’ energy source compared to coal or oil, gas still poses environmental challenges, including the disruption of ecosystems during drilling, potential water pollution, and the leakage of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—from infrastructure.

As we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, the environmental impact of gas remains a critical global concern. The combustion of gas, a fossil fuel, releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing significantly to climate change. 

This global perspective underscores the urgency of addressing the environmental impact of gas and the need for concerted efforts towards cleaner, more sustainable energy solutions.

What Do We Mean With Gas Exactly

When we refer to “gas” in the context of energy, we typically talk about natural gas, a fossil fuel primarily composed of methane (CH4). This gaseous hydrocarbon is formed over millions of years from the decomposed remains of plants and animals. 

This gaseous mixture of hydrocarbons is used across various sectors, including electricity generation, heating, cooking, and as a fuel for vehicles, though its use in transportation is minimal.

Globally, natural gas plays a significant role in the energy mix. The demand for natural gas is expected to grow, with forecasts predicting a 2.5% increase in global gas demand in 2024. 

Despite its cleaner-burning nature, natural gas still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, energy-related CO2 emissions reached a record high, with gas flaring contributing to these emissions. 

The environmental impact of gas varies by region, with countries like the United States, Russia, and China being among the highest emitters. 

Environmental Impact of Gas

The environmental impact of gas, including natural gas and gasoline, is significant due to its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions when burned. While cleaner than coal or oil, natural gas still emits considerable CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere. 

CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, which include natural gas and gasoline, have increased by about 90% since 1970. The impact of gas per usage can be illustrated by the fact that every five mph increase in vehicle speed over 50 mph is equivalent to paying an extra £0.20-£0.40 per gallon due to decreased fuel efficiency and increased emissions.

Annual Co2 emissions from gas

What Is So Bad About Gas For The Environment?

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has a global warming potential 21 times higher than carbon dioxide over 100 years. Furthermore, a study suggests that methane leaks could account for around 10% of natural gas’s contribution to climate change, with CO2 emissions accounting for the other 90%. 

Greenhouse gas on the environmental impact of gas

This illustrates the impact of natural gas on the environment:

Greenhouse GasPercentage of Global EmissionsGlobal Warming Potential (over 100 years)
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel use65%1 (reference gas)
Methane (CH4) from natural gas systems16% of total methane emissions21 times higher than CO2
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) from fuel combustionMinor compared to CO2 and CH4298

What is the Impact of Gas?

The impact of gas on the environment is multifaceted, affecting air quality, human health, and the global climate. In 2022, natural gas accounted for 22% of global emissions from fuel combustion, with the most significant emitters being China and the United States.

Fuel TypePercentage of Global Emissions
Coal44%
Oil32%
Gas22%
Other2%
Source: IEA Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Energy Data Explorer 

Total Impact per Year

Annually, the environmental impact of gas usage is substantial. In 2021, U.S. CO2 emissions from natural gas combustion for energy accounted for about 34% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions. Air pollution from oil and natural gas production causes roughly £77 billion in health impacts nationwide annually. 

Globally, fossil fuels, which include coal, oil, and gas, are responsible for over 75% of greenhouse gas emissions, with the energy sector, including transportation, electricity, and heat, being the most significant contributor.

Impact per Day

Daily, every gallon of gasoline burned creates approximately 8,887 grams of CO2. This translates to significant daily emissions, considering the vast number of vehicles and the amount of gas consumed daily. 

The average passenger vehicle emits about 400 grams of CO2 per mile, leading to an annual emission of about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per vehicle.

Impact per Usage

Each gas usage, whether a car journey, a flight, or electricity generation, has a quantifiable environmental impact. The environmental consequences of using gas vary across sectors. In the energy production sector, natural gas emits 50 to 60 per cent less CO2 than coal or oil when burned for power generation, but it also releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. 

Manufacturing processes have grown by 203% since 1990, contributing significantly to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The energy sector, including transportation, electricity and heat, buildings, manufacturing and construction, is responsible for 75.6% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions

SectorGlobal Greenhouse Gas Emissions (% of global emissions)Example Industries
Electricity and Heat Production24%Coal, natural gas, and oil power plants
Industry29%Manufacturing, chemical production, waste management
Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use22%Crop cultivation, livestock, deforestation
Transportation25%Road, rail, air, and marine transport

Top 5 Gas Largest Economies 

The United States is the largest producer of natural gas, followed by Russia, Iran, and China. The United States also leads in consumption, with Texas being the largest natural gas-consuming state. 

In 2024, global gas demand is forecast to grow by 2.5%, or 100 billion cubic metres (BCM), with expected colder winter weather being a contributing factor. 

China is the biggest emitter, accounting for 26.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, followed by the United States at 12.5% and India at 7.06%. 

However, the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar is underway, and natural gas is seen as a bridge fuel

RankCountryAnnual Gas Production (Billion Cubic Metres)Annual Gas Consumption (Billion Cubic Metres)Export Volume (Billion Cubic Metres)Major Companies
1United States920846125ExxonMobil, Chevron
2Russia690424210Gazprom
3China1803287National Iranian Oil Company
4Iran2402339Qatar Petroleum
5Canada20011085Canadian Natural Resources, Encana
Data source: IEA and other reputable source

The oil and gas industry is the engine of the world economy, with OPEC member countries holding almost half of the world’s proven natural gas reserves. 

The top five countries with the largest natural gas reserves are:

CountryGas Reserves (MMcf)World Share
Russia1,688,228,00024.3%
Iran1,201,382,00017.3%
Qatar871,585,00012.5%
United States368,704,0005.3%
Data source: Worldometer

These figures represent the countries’ proven reserves of natural gas.

Is Gas Toxic?

In its various forms, gas can be toxic and pose significant health risks. The toxicity of a gas depends on its type, concentration, and duration of exposure. Some gases are harmful in small amounts, while others become dangerous at higher concentrations or after prolonged exposure. 

Common Toxic Gases

Several gases are known for their toxicity. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Hydrogen Sulfide: This gas is commonly found in hot springs and volcanoes, and exposure can lead to conjunctivitis, headache, fatigue, and, in high concentrations, life-threatening cardiovascular events.
  • Carbon Monoxide: A colourless, odourless gas, carbon monoxide can be deadly when inhaled in high concentrations or for a prolonged period. It is produced when burning gasoline and other fuels.
  • Nitrogen Oxides: These gases can cause respiratory distress and irritation of the mucous membranes. They are produced when natural gas is burned at high temperatures.
  • Ozone: Exposure to ozone can lead to nausea, paresthesia, respiratory distress, and cardiac shock.
  • Solvents: Long-term exposure to solvents can affect the central nervous system, causing dizziness, drowsiness, lack of concentration, confusion, headaches, coma, and even death.

Health Effects of Toxic Gases

GasHealth Effects
Hydrogen SulfideConjunctivitis, headache, fatigue, cardiovascular events
Carbon MonoxideOrgan damage, death
Nitrogen OxidesRespiratory distress, mucous membrane irritation
OzoneNausea, paresthesis, respiratory distress, cardiac shock
SolventsCentral nervous system damage, death

Can We Get Rid of Gas?

Eliminating natural gas as an energy source is a complex challenge due to its widespread use for heating, electricity generation, and industrial processes.

In the UK, for example, the government has set targets to reduce the use of gas significantly. The UK is estimated to stop using gas after 2035, with a phase-out of 80% of gas boilers from the UK homes by that year. 

However, getting rid of gas, particularly in homes, involves a process known as electrification. This entails converting all heating, cooling, and appliances to electricity, effectively removing natural gas from the house. This process is feasible as electricity can power all appliances, generate heat, and even power cars.

However, this transition requires careful planning and execution. It involves replacing gas-powered appliances with electric options, which can be a significant upfront cost.

Is Gas Biodegradable?

Biodegradability is often associated with solid waste, particularly plastics and organic materials. However, it can also apply to gases, albeit in a different context.

Gases, like solid and liquid waste, can undergo biodegradation. 

Depending on the environment, the decomposition process can take weeks to years. For instance, peak landfill gas production usually occurs 5 to 7 years after dumping waste. Almost all gas is produced within 20 years after waste is dumped; however, small quantities of gas may continue to be emitted from a landfill for 50 or more years.

Implications of Gas Biodegradability

The biodegradability of gases has significant implications for environmental sustainability and waste management. For instance, the methane produced from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills can be captured and used as a renewable energy source, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to energy sustainability.

These fuels can be derived from renewable feedstocks, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and offering a sustainable alternative to traditional fossil fuels. 

Can Gas Be Recycled?

Yes, gas can be recycled in several ways, depending on the gas type. In many industries, gases are recycled to improve efficiency, reduce emissions, and save costs.

IndustryGas RecycledUse of Recycled Gas
Oil and GasNatural GasEnhanced oil recovery, energy source
ChemicalVariousReused in manufacturing processes
SteelCoke oven gas, Blast furnace gas, Converter gasHeating, electricity generation
Environmental ConservationCO2, Landfill gasPlant growth, carbonated beverages, energy source

While the recycling of gases may not be as well-known as the recycling of solid materials, it is a vital practice in many industries and environmental conservation efforts.

Is Gas Sustainable?

The question of whether gas is sustainable is complex and multifaceted. The environmental impact, particularly methane emission, is a significant concern. Methane is about 84 times more potent than CO2 over 20 years

Greenhouse GasAtmospheric LifespanGlobal Warming Potential (over 20 years)
Methane (CH4)~12 years84-87 times greater than CO2
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)Up to 100+ years1 (reference gas)

However, strategies such as gas recycling and renewable gas alternatives like RNG offer promising pathways towards a more sustainable use of gas.

RNG drastically reduces carbon emissions by an average of 300% versus diesel, and unlike conventional natural gas, it is not a fossil fuel and does not involve drilling. 

Gas TypeSustainability Considerations
Natural GasBridge fuel in energy transition, but methane emissions are a concern
Landfill GasA significant source of methane emissions
Renewable Natural GasReduces carbon emissions, not fossil fuel

What Are Alternatives to Gas?

Alternatives to natural gas present a pathway to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. These alternatives are not only environmentally friendly but also offer a range of benefits over conventional natural gas.

Alternatives and Why These Are Better

  1. Biogas: Produced from organic waste, biogas is a renewable and eco-friendly alternative. It can be used similarly to natural gas for heating, electricity generation, and industrial applications. Biogas reduces reliance on fossil fuels and helps manage waste effectively.
  2. Renewable Natural Gas (RNG): RNG, or biogas processed to pipeline quality, is interchangeable with conventional natural gas. It captures methane from landfills and livestock operations, preventing greenhouse gas emissions and providing a renewable energy source.
  3. Propane: Derived from natural gas processing and crude oil refining, propane is a more cost-effective and efficient option than natural gas. It is used for heating, cooking, and in industrial processes.
  4. Solar Energy: Solar power is a clean and inexhaustible energy source. It can be used for heating water, generating electricity, and more. Solar panels can reduce energy bills and decrease dependence on fossil fuels.
  5. Wind Energy: Wind turbines convert wind into electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. Wind energy is sustainable and can significantly reduce carbon emissions.
  6. Hydrogen: Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity through a chemical reaction, emitting only water vapour. Hydrogen is abundant and can be produced from renewable sources, though the technology is still expensive and infrastructure is limited.

Is It Better Than Alternatives?

The sustainability of these alternatives is often superior to that of natural gas. They offer the potential for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, lower environmental impact, and, in some cases, better efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Statistics, Facts and Figures Gas

Natural gas plays a significant role in the global energy landscape. Here, we delve into the key statistics, facts, and figures related to gas worldwide.

2022 global gas production remained stable, following a 4.3% increase in 2021.

Despite a 12% fall in Russia’s production due to lower exports to Europe, the overall global production was balanced by higher outputs in North America, the Middle East, China, and Australia. 

The world has proven gas reserves equivalent to 6,923 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), about 52.3 times its annual consumption.

Russia held the largest share of these reserves at 24.3%, followed by Iran (17.3%) and Qatar (12.5%)

Russia is the second-largest natural gas exporter globally, following the United States. Qatar and Norway were the next largest exporters.

The United States is the largest consumer, followed by Russia and China.

Interestingly, while the United States saw a slight decrease in consumption, Russia and China recorded increases of over 11%.

Trends and Predictions in the Gas Industry

The Asia Pacific region, particularly China and India, is expected to drive over half of the incremental global gas consumption through 2025, with an average annual growth rate of 1.5%.

The U.S. is expected to increase its LNG exports to an average of 12.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2023, with two new LNG export projects expected to come online by the end of 2024.

Global gas demand is set to grow by an average of 1.6% between 2022 and 2026, down from an average of 2.5% between 2017 and 2021.

There is a shift in global LNG demand from Asia to Europe, with Europe requiring 4.8 Bcf/d of gas until 2030, representing about half of the US LNG export in 2021.

By 2025, the U.S. is projected to reach an annual gas production of over 1,030 billion cubic meters (BCM), growing by 1.2% annually.

Frequently Asked Questions

Inemesit Ukpanah
Written by Inemesit Ukpanah, Writer

Inemesit is a seasoned content writer with 9 years of experience in B2B and B2C. Her expertise in sustainability and green technologies guides readers towards eco-friendly choices, significantly contributing to the field of renewable energy and environmental sustainability.

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