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.
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.
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.
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%.
This illustrates the impact of natural gas on the environment:
|Percentage of Global Emissions
|Global Warming Potential (over 100 years)
|Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel use
|1 (reference gas)
|Methane (CH4) from natural gas systems
|16% of total methane emissions
|21 times higher than CO2
|Nitrous Oxide (N2O) from fuel combustion
|Minor compared to CO2 and CH4
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.
|Percentage of Global Emissions
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.
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.
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.
|Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions (% of global emissions)
|Electricity and Heat Production
|Coal, natural gas, and oil power plants
|Manufacturing, chemical production, waste management
|Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use
|Crop cultivation, livestock, deforestation
|Road, rail, air, and marine transport
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%.
|Annual Gas Production (Billion Cubic Metres)
|Annual Gas Consumption (Billion Cubic Metres)
|Export Volume (Billion Cubic Metres)
|National Iranian Oil Company
|Canadian Natural Resources, Encana
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:
|Gas Reserves (MMcf)
These figures represent the countries’ proven reserves of natural gas.
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.
Several gases are known for their toxicity. These include, but are not limited to:
|Conjunctivitis, headache, fatigue, cardiovascular events
|Organ damage, death
|Respiratory distress, mucous membrane irritation
|Nausea, paresthesis, respiratory distress, cardiac shock
|Central nervous system damage, death
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Use of Recycled Gas
|Oil and Gas
|Enhanced oil recovery, energy source
|Reused in manufacturing processes
|Coke oven gas, Blast furnace gas, Converter gas
|Heating, electricity generation
|CO2, Landfill gas
|Plant 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.
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.
|Global Warming Potential (over 20 years)
|84-87 times greater than CO2
|Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
|Up to 100+ years
|1 (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.
|Bridge fuel in energy transition, but methane emissions are a concern
|A significant source of methane emissions
|Renewable Natural Gas
|Reduces carbon emissions, not fossil fuel
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.
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.
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%.
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.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel primarily composed of methane. It is used in various applications, including heating homes and powering vehicles, and it serves as a critical input in industries such as power generation and manufacturing.
Several factors influence natural gas prices, including supply and demand, weather conditions, economic growth, and geopolitical events. Prices can vary significantly across different regions due to differences in supply and demand dynamics, infrastructure, and regulatory environments.
Natural gas is not renewable. It is a fossil fuel formed from the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Once extracted and used, it cannot be replenished.
As of 2017, there were 6,923 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven gas reserves worldwide. This equates to about 52 years of gas left at current consumption levels, excluding unproven reserves.
As of 2022, global natural gas consumption amounted to roughly 3.94 trillion cubic meters. Consumption varies significantly by country, with some countries, such as the United States and Russia, consuming large amounts due to their size and industrial activity.
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.