Natural gas, (not to be confused with the highly refined version of oil that one gets at the gas station) is a relatively abundant fossil fuel, like coal. It provides the U.S. with about a fifth of our electricity and lots of heating fuel for homes and buildings. Burning natural gas emits about a fifth of the fossil fuel based CO2 into our atmosphere (here in the U.S., 10% of global). Methane is the primary component of natural gas and has more than 20 times the warming potential of CO2. Still, it remains a cleaner fuel, because total emissions are much lower from gas than either coal or oil per unit of energy produced, and it produces no polluting solid waste such as that of coal.
Natural gas has also been the fossil fuel used in the production of commercial fertilizers for much of the last century. It replaced manure, which also generates methane into the atmosphere, and is currently used to fertilize only 5% of U.S. farm land, the rest is amended with the commercial stuff. Manure is becoming an energy source too.
There’s a dairy in Minnesota that is powering its own operation and 70 other homes with the manure from its cows. Santa Barbara’s wastewater treatment is powered by the methane generated by its own humans.
Landfills also generate methane. Landfill and animal waste is called biomass. Capture it and it becomes a renewable fuel source. We can certainly count on us humans generating tons of it.
Barbara Hirsch, recording engineer, eco-person