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1

Assessing the greenhouse impact of

2

natural gas

 

3

L. M. Cathles, June 6, 2012

 

4

Abstract

5

The global warming impact of substituting natural gas for coal and oil is currently in

6

debate. We address this question here by comparing the reduction of greenhouse warming

7

that would result from substituting gas for coal and some oil to the reduction which could

8

be achieved by instead substituting zero carbon energy sources. We show that substitution

9

of natural gas reduces global warming by 40% of that which could be attained by the

10

substitution of zero carbon energy sources. At methane leakage rates that are ~1% of

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production, which is similar to today’s probable leakage rate of ~1.5% of production, the

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40% benefit is realized as gas substitution occurs. For short transitions the leakage rate

13

must be more than 10 to 15% of production for gas substitution not to reduce warming,

14

and for longer transitions the leakage must be much greater. But even if the leakage was so

15

high that the substitution was not of immediate benefit, the 40%‐of‐zero‐carbon benefit

16

would be realized shortly after methane emissions ceased because methane is removed

17

quickly form the atmosphere whereas CO

2

is not. The benefits of substitution are

18

unaffected by heat exchange to the ocean. CO

2

emissions are the key to anthropogenic

19

climate change, and substituting gas reduces them by 40% of that possible by conversion to

20

zero carbon energy sources. Gas substitution also reduces the rate at which zero carbon

21

energy sources must be eventually introduced.

 

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Introduction

23

In a recent controversial paper, Howarth et al. (2011) suggested that, because methane is a

24

far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the leakage of natural gas makes its

25

greenhouse forcing as bad and possibly twice as bad as coal, and they concluded that this

26

undermines the potential benefit of natural gas as a transition fuel to low carbon energy

27

sources. Others (Hayhoe et al., 2009; Wigley, 2011) have pointed out that the warming

28

caused by reduced SO

2

emissions as coal electrical facilities are retired will compromise

29

some of the benefits of the CO

2

reduction. Wigley (2011) has suggested that because the

30

impact of gas substitution for coal on global temperatures is small and there would be

1

31 some warming as SO

32 resource availability and economics, not greenhouse gas considerations.

2 emissions are reduced, the decision of fuel use should be based on

33 Some of these suggestions have been challenged. For example Cathles et al. (2012) have

34 taken issue with Howarth et al. for comparing gas and coal in terms of the heat content of

35 the fuels rather than their electricity generating capacity (coal is used only to generate

36 electricity), for exaggerating the methane leakage by a factor of 3.6, and for using an

37 inappropriately short (20 year) global warming potential factor (GWP). Nevertheless it

38 remains difficult to see in the published literature precisely what benefit might be realized

39 by substituting gas for coal and the use of metrics such as GWP factors seems to complicate

40 rather than simplify the analysis. This paper seeks to remedy these deficiencies by

41 comparing the benefits of natural gas substitution to those of immediately substituting

42 low‐carbon energy sources. The comparative analysis goes back to the fundamental

43 equation and does not use simplified GWP metrics. Because it is a null analysis it avoids

44 the complications of SO , carbon black, and the complexities of CO

45 atmosphere. It shows that the substitution of natural gas for coal and some oil would

46 realize ~40% of the greenhouse benefits that could be had by replacing fossil fuels with

47 low carbon energy sources such as wind, solar, and nuclear. In the long term this gas

48 substitution benefit does not depend on the speed of the transition or the methane leakage

49 rate. If the transition is faster, greenhouse warming is less. If the leakage is less, the

50 reduction of warming during the substitution period is greater, but regardless of the rate of

51 leakage or the speed of substitution, natural gas achieves ~40% of the benefits of low

52 carbon energy substitution a few decades after methane emissions associated with gas

53 production cease. The benefit of natural gas substitution is a direct result of the decrease

54 in CO

2

2 removal from the

2 emissions it causes.

55 The calculation methods used here follow Wigley (2011), but are computed using

56 programs of our own design from the equations and parameters given below. Parameters

57 are defined that convert scenarios for the yearly consumption of the fossil fuels to the

58 yearly production of CO and CH

59 atmosphere and removed using accepted equations. Radiative forcings are calculated for

60 the volumetric gas concentrations as they increase, the equilibrium global temperature

2

4 . These greenhouse gases are then introduced into the

2

61 change is computed by multiplying the sum of these forcings by the equilibrium sensitivity

62 factor currently favored by the IPCC, and the increments of equilibrium temperature

63 change are converted to transient temperature changes using a two layer ocean thermal

64 mixing model.

65 Emission Scenarios

66

67 other greehouse gases that result from the burning of fossil fuels. Between 1970 and 2002,

68 world energy consumption from all sources (coal, gas, oil, nuclear, hydro and renewables)

69 increased at the rate of 2.1% per year. In the year 2005 six and a half billion people

70 consumed ~440EJ (EJ= exajoules = 10

71 Oil and gas supplied 110 EJ each, coal 165EJ, and other sources (hydro, nuclear, and

72 renewables such a wind and solar) 55 EJ (MiniCAM scenario, Clark, 2007). In 2100 the

73 world population is projected to plateau at ~10.5 billion. If the per person consumption

74 then is at today’s European average of ~7 kW p

75 would be 2300 EJ per year (74 TW). We start with the fuel consumption pattern at 2005

76 AD and grow it exponentially so that it reaches 2300 EJ per year at the end of a “transition”

77 period. At the end of the transition the energy is supplied almost entirely by low carbon

78 sources in all cases, but in the first half of the transition, which we call the growth period,

79 hydrocarbon consumption either increases on the current trajectory (the “business‐as‐

80 usual” scenario), increases at the same equivalent rate with gas substituted for coal and oil

81 (a “substitute‐gas scenario), or declines immediately (the low‐carbon‐fast scenario). Coal

82 use is phased out at exactly the same rate in the substitute‐gas and low‐carbon‐fast

83 scenarios, so that the reduction of SO

84 these two scenarios and therefor is not a factor when we compare the reduction in

85 greenhouse warming for the substitute‐gas and the low‐carbon‐fast scenarios.

Greenhouse warming is driven by the increase in the atmospheric levels of CO , CH

2

4

and

18 joules, 1 joule = 1.055 Btu; EIA, 2011) of energy.

‐1

, global energy consumption in 2100

2 and carbon black emissions is exactly the same in

86 Figure 1 shows the three fuel scenarios considered for a 100 year transition:

87 In first half (growth period) of the businessas usual scenario (A in Figure 1), fossil

88 fuel consumption increases 2.9 fold from 440 EJ/yr in 2005 to 1265 EJ/yr over the

3

89 50 year growth period, and then declines to 205.6 EJ/yr after the full transition. The

90

91 at the same 4.13 GtC/yr rate as at the end of the other scenarios. The total energy

92 consumption grows at 2.13 % per year in the growth period, and at 1.2% over the

93 decline period. The growth period is a shifted (to start in 2005), slightly simplified,

94 exponential version of the MiniCAM scenario in Clark (2007). We increase the

95 hydrocarbon consumption by the same factors as in the MiniCAM scenario, and

96 determine the renewable growth by subtracting the hydrocarbon energy

97 consumption from this total. The growth‐decline combination is similar to the base

98 scenario used by Wigley(2011).

99

mix of hydrocarbons consumed at the end of the transition produces CO

2

emissions

In the substitutegas scenario (B in Figure 1), gas replaces coal and new oil

100 consumption over the growth period, and is replaced by low carbon fuels in the

101 decline period. Gas replaces coal on an equal electricity‐generation basis

102

103 on an equal heat content basis. Gas use at the end of the growth period is thus 729

104 EJ y

105

106

107 In the low carbon fast scenario (C in Figure 1), low carbon energy sources replace

108 coal, new gas, and new oil over the growth period, and gas use grows and oil use

109 decreases so that the consumption at the end is the same as in the substitute‐gas

110 scenario.

(H gas = H R

coal

coal /R gas

= 234 EJ y , see Table 1), and gas replaces new oil (165 EJ y

‐1

‐1

‐1

, rather than 330 EJ y‐1in the business‐as‐usual scenario. The growth of

renewable energy consumption is greater than in (A). Over the ensuing decline period, oil consumption drops to 75 EJ y and gas to 175 EJ y

‐1

‐1

.

)

111 These scenarios are intended to provide a simple basis for assessing the benefits of

112 substituting gas for coal; they are intended to be instructive and realistic enough to be

113 relevant to future societal decisions. The question they pose is: How far will substituting

114 gas for coal and some oil take us toward the greenhouse benefits of an immediate and rapid

115 conversion to low carbon energy sources.

4

116

117

118

119

120

121

122

123

124

125

2500

2000

1500

1000

500

110

110

0

A. Business as Usual 165 2094.4 440 55 330 330 165
A. Business as Usual
165
2094.4
440
55
330
330
165
2500 B. Subst iute Gas 2000 1500 2050 1000 371 500 729 175 165 0
2500
B.
Subst iute Gas
2000
1500
2050
1000
371
500
729
175
165
0
G row th Per io d
D ec li ne Pe ri od
EJ per year

55.6

75

75

no Crow th Per io d D ec li ne Pe ri od EJ per year 55.6

CoalPer io d D ec li ne Pe ri od EJ per year 55.6 75 75

Gasio d D ec li ne Pe ri od EJ per year 55.6 75 75 no

Oild D ec li ne Pe ri od EJ per year 55.6 75 75 no C

75

2500 2300 EJ C. Low Carbon Fast 2000 1500 1265 EJ 2050 1000 990 440
2500
2300 EJ
C. Low Carbon Fast
2000
1500
1265 EJ
2050
1000
990
440 EJ
500
175
110 165
0
75
0
25
50
75
100

years af er 2005

Figure 1 Three fuel consumption scenarios compared in this paper: (A) Fossil fuel use in the businessas usual

scenario continues the present growth in fossil fuel consumption in the initial 50 year growth period before low

carbon energy sources replace fossil fuels in the decline period. (B) In the substitutegas scenario, gas replaces

coal such that the same amount of electricity is generated, and substitutes for new oil on an equal heat energy

basis. (C) In the low carbon fast scenario, low carbon energy sources immediately substitute for coal and new oil

and gas in the growth period, and gas use declines and substitutes for oil in the decline period. Numbers indicate

the consumption of the fuels in EJ per year at the start, midpoint, and end of the transition period. The total

energy use is the same in all scenarios and is indicated at the start, midpoint, and end by the bold black numbers

in (C).

5

126

127

Table 1. Parameters used in the calculations. I is the energy content of the fuel, R the efficiency of conversion to

electricity, and and the carbon and methane emissions factors. See text for discussion.

 

I[EJ Gt 1 ]

R[EJ e EJ 1 ]

ξ [Gt C EJ 1 ]

ζ[Gt CH4 EJ 1 ]

Gas

55

0.6

0.015

1.8x10 ‐4 for a leakage of 1% of production

Oil

43

 

0.020

 

Coal

29

0.32

0.027

1.2x10 ‐4 for 5m 3 /t

128

129

130

131

132

133

134

135 calculations.

Computation Method and Parameters

Table 1 summarizes the parameters used in the calculations. I[EJ Gt

‐1

], gives the heat

energy produced when each fossil fuel is burned in exajoules (10 18 joules) per gigaton (10 9

tons) of the fuel. The values we use are from http://www.natural‐

gas.com.au/about/references.html. The energy density of coal varies from 25‐37 GJ/t,

depending on the rank of the coal, but 29 GJ/t is considered a good average value for

136

137

138

139

140

141

142

143

144

145

146

147

148

149

R[EJ EJ

exajoules of electrical energy per exajoule of heat. Gas can generate electricity with much

greater efficiency than coal because it can drive a gas turbine whose effluent heat can then

be used to drive a steam generator. Looking forward, older low efficiency coal plants will

likely be replaced by higher efficiency combined cycle gas plants of this kind. The electrical

conversion efficiencies we adopt in Table 1 are those selected by Hayhoe et al. (2002, their

Table II).

‐1

] is the efficiency with which gas and coal can be converted to electricity in

e

The carbon emission factors in gigatons of carbon released to the atmosphere per exajoule

of combustion heat, ξ [Gt C EJ 1

compiled by the EPA(2005) and used by Wigley (2011).

], listed in the fourth column of Table 1 are the factors

Finally, the methane emission factors, ζ[Gt CH4 EJ ‐1

computed from the fraction of methane that leaks during the production and delivery of

natural gas and the volume of methane that is released to the atmosphere during mining

and transport of coal:

] in the last column of Table 1 are

6

150

151

gas

coal

[Gt

CH4

[Gt

CH4

EJ

-1

EJ

-1

]

]

L

[Gt

V

[m

CH4-vented

Gt

-1

CH4-burned

3

CH4

t

-1

coal-mined

]

CH4

[ t

Gt -1 CH4-burned 3 CH4 t -1 coal-mined ]  CH4 [ t CH I 4

CH

I

4

-1 [EJ Gt ] CH4-burned -3 m ] I [EJ Gt CH4
-1
[EJ Gt
]
CH4-burned
-3
m
]
I
[EJ Gt
CH4

-1

coal-burned

]

.

(1a)

(1b)

152 The density of methane in (1b)

153 to the atmosphere during the production and distribution of natural gas, L , parametrically

154 in our calculations. The natural gas leakage, L, is defined as the mass fraction of natural gas

155 that is burned.

CH4

‐3

= 0.71x10 tons per m

3 . We treat the methane vented

156 We assume in our calculations that 5 m

157 leakage of methane during coal mining has been reviewed in detail by Howarth et al.

158 (2011) and Wigley (2011). Combining leakages from surface and deep mining in the

159 proportions that coal is extracted in these two processes, they arrive at 6.26 m

160 m

161 reasonable estimate (e.g., see Saghafi et al., 1997), although some have estimated much

162

3 of methane is released per ton of coal mined. The

3 /t and 4.88

3 /t respectively. The value we use lies between these two estimates, and appears to be a

3

/t).

higher values (e.g, Hayhoe et al., 2002, suggest ~23 m

163

164 Q C [Gt C y ‐1 ] and Q CH4 [Gt CH4 y ‐1 ], are related to the heat produced in burning the fuels, H[EJ y

165

The yearly discharge of CO (measured in tons of carbon) and CH

2

1

] in Figure 1:

4 to the atmosphere,

166

167

Q

Q

C

[Gt

C

y

CH 4

[Gt

C

-1

y

]

-1

]

H

[EJ y

-1

H

[EJ y

]

[Gt

C

-1

]

[Gt

EJ

CH4

-1

]

EJ

-1

 

(2a)

]

(2b)

168

169

The volume fractions of CO and CH added to the atmosphere in year t i

2

4

by (1) are:

X

CO

2



t

i

[

ppmv y

1

]

Q [Gt

C

C

y

-1

]10

15

W

CO 2

W

C

W

air

W

CO 2

V

CO 2

V

air

M t

atm

(3a)

170

X

CH

4



t

i

[

ppbv y

1

]

Q

CH 4

[Gt

CH4

y

-1

]10

18

W

air

W

CH 4

V

CH 4

V

air

M atm

t

7

.

(3b)

171

172

173 ratio converts the yearly mass addition of carbon to the yearly mass addition of CO

174 the second mass fraction ratio converts this to the volume fraction of CO

175

Here M atm [t] = 5.3 x 10 15 tons is the mass of the atmosphere, W CO2

CO 2 (44 g/mole), and V CO2 is the molar volume of C O2

is the molecular weight of

, etc. In (2a) the first molecular weight

V

CO2

=

V

air

.

2 in the

2 , and

atmosphere. We assume the gases are ideal and thus

176 Each yearly input of carbon dioxide and methane is assumed to decay with time as follows:

 X  t   t  X  t f  2 i
X
 t
 
t
X
t f
2
i
CO
2
i
CO
2
177 CO
t

t
0.217
0.259
e
172.9
f CO 2
X
 t
 
t
X
t f
CH
4
i
CH
4
i
CH
4
178
t

t
 e
12
f CH 4



t

0.338



t

,

e

 t
t

18.51

0.186

e

 t
t

1.186

(4a)

(4b)

179 where t is time in years after the input of a yearly increment of gas at t i

180 are those assumed by the IPCC (2007, Table 2.14). The 12 year decay time for methane in

181 (4b) is a perturbation lifetime that takes into account chemical reactions that increase

182 methane’s lifetime according to the IPCC (2007, §2.10.3.1). The decay of CO

183 (4a) does not account for changes with time in the carbonate‐bicarbonate equilibrium

184 (such as decreasing CO

185 increases) which become important at higher concentrations of atmospheric CO

186

187 will be retained in the atmosphere when warming has become substantial.

2011; Eby et al., 2009). Equation (4a) thus probably understates the amount of CO

. These decay rates

2 described by

2 solubility as the temperature of the ocean surface waters

2 (see NRC,

2

that

188 The concentration of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere as a function of time is

189 computed by summing the additions each year and the decayed contributions from the

190 additions in previous years:

191

X

X

CO

CH

2

4



t

i



t

i



X



X

CO

2

CH

4



t

i



t

i

i

1

j 1

i

1

j 1

X

X

CO

2

CH

4

 j

t f

CO

2

t

i

 j

t f

CH

4

t

i

t

j

t

j

,

8

(5)

192

193

194 sum terms on the right hand sides does not contribute unless i ≥ 2.

where

X

CO

2

t

i

and

X

CH

4

t

i

are volumetric concentration of CO and CH

2

4 in ppmv and ppbv

respectively, i runs from 1 to t tot where t tot

is the duration of the transition in years, and the

195

196 computed using the following formulae given in the IPCC (2001, §6.3.5):

The radiative forcings for carbon dioxide and methane, ∆F [W m ] and ∆F [W m

CO2

‐2

CO2

197

F

CO 2

F

CH 4

W m

f M N

,

W m

X  t  X  t  0   2  CO 2
X

t
 X
t
 0
 2
CO
2
i
CO
2
 5.35ln
t  0
X CO 2
 2

0.036 
X

t
X

0
X
  
0
f X
CH
4
CH
4
i
CH
4
CH
4
 5
 5
 15
1.52 
0.47 ln 1
2.01
10

MN
5.31
MN
M NM

CH

4



t

i

X

CH

4

 

0

,

N

o

f X

CH

4

 

0

,

N

o

‐2

] are

(6)

198 We start our calculations with the atmospheric conditions in 2005: X

199

200 magnifies the direct forcing of CH

201 increases in atmospheric methane. The IPCC(2007) suggests these indirect interactions

202 increase the direct forcing first by 15% and then by an additional 25%, with the result that

203

204 increase ψ

205 suggested additional increase (see Hultman et al., 2011). We generally use ψ

206

CO2

[t=0]=379 ppmv,

CH4

is a factor that

X

CH4

[t=0]=1774 ppbv, and the N O concentration, N =319 ppbv. ψ

2

o

4 to take into account the indirect interactions caused by

ψ

CH4

= 1.43. Shindell et al. (2009) have suggested additional indirect interactions which

CH4

to ~1.94. There is continuing discussion of the validity of Shindell et al.’s

CH4

=1.43 in

our

calculations, but consider the impact of ψ

CH4

to ~1.94 where it could be important.

The

radiative forcing of the greenhouse gas additions in (6) drives global temperature

207

208 change. The ultimate change in global temperature they cause is:

209

T

equil

T T

CO 2

CH 4

S

1

F F

CO

2

CH

4

,

(7)

210

211 which is equivalent to assuming that a doubling of atmospheric CO

212 global temperature increase.

where

1

S

is the equilibrium climate sensitivity. We adopt the IPCC, 2007 value

S

1 0.8

2 [ppmv] causes a 3°C

,

213

214 forcing. Assuming, following Solomon et al (2011), a two layer ocean where the mixed

The heat capacity of the ocean delays the surface temperature response to greenhouse

215 layer is in thermal equilibrium with the atmosphere:

9

216

C

C

 T

mix

mix

t

 T

mix

deep

t

s

equil

T

mix



T

mix

T

mix



T

deep

 

T

mix



T

deep

.

(8)

217 Here is the heat transfer coefficient for the flow of heat from the mixed layer into the deep

218

219 atmosphere (and the inverse of the equilibrium climate sensitivity).

220

221 Defining

layer in W K ‐1 m ‐2 , and s

is the heat transfer coefficient into the mixed layer from the

mix and C deep

C

are the

heat storage capacities per unit surface area of the mixed and deep layers in J K m

‐1

equil

T   T

mix

mix

 T

mix

,

T  T T

deep

mix

equil

deep

T mix ,  T   T  T deep mix equil deep , t

, t t , and

mix

mix

1

C

mix

s

‐2

.

, we can

222 write:    T  mix 223    t  T
222 write:
 T
mix
223
 t  T 
deep
   



s



s

1

1

1

deep

1

C C

mix



s



s

1

1

C C

mix

1

deep

   T

mix

 

T

deep

.

(9)

224 For the imposition of a sudden increase in greenhouse forcing that will ultimately produce

225 an equilibrium temperature change of

equil

T

mix

as described by (7), the solution to (8) is:

226

T

mix



equil

T

mix

      t 1   a exp   
 t
1  
a
exp
 1  a
1
e
m
mix

   exp    t     1  e
 
exp    t
1
e
d
mix

.

(10)

227

228 coefficient, a, is determined by the initial condition that the layers are not thermally

229 perturbed before the increment of greenhouse forcing is imposed.

Here e m and e

d are the magnitudes of the eigenvalues of the matrix in (9), and the

230 Insight is provided by noting that the eigenvalues and parameter a in (10) are functions of

231 the ratios of heat transfer and heat storage parameters

1

s

and

C

deep

C

1

mix

only, and can be

232 approximated to within ±10%:

233

 a  0.483  0.344 1   1  1  1 e
a 
0.483 
0.344 1
1
 1
1
e

  1
m
s
 1
2 C
C
 1
deep
mix
e
d 
 1

s



s

1

0.7

, 0.2



s

1

1

.

(11)

10

234 It is unlikely that that heat will be transferred out the base of the mixed layer more

235 efficiently than it is into the top of the mixed layer because the transfer will be mostly

236 driven by winds and cooling of the ocean surface. For this reason the heat transfer

237 coefficient ratio



1

s

is almost certainly ≤1 and the reduction of temperature is greatest for

238

239 the change that will occur when the ocean layers are fully warmed, and the response time

240 required to reach this equilibrium change (the time required to reach 2/3



s

1

1

. For



s

1

1

, the initial temperature change in the mixed layer will be about half

rds

of the

241 equilibrium value) will be about ½ of the response time of the mixed layer (e.g.,

e

1

mix

1 2
1
2

).

242

For



s

1 1

, the response time of the deep layer is twice the heat storage capacity ratio

243

times the response time of the mixed layer:

2 C

deep

C

1

mix mix

.

244 The transient temperature change can be computed from the equilibrium temperature

245 change in (7) by convolving in a fashion similar to what was done in (5):

246



T t

i

i 1

j 1

T

equil


 j

t

1

 

a

exp

  t

m

j

 

exp   t   m  j       i

i

t

e

1

mix

1

a

 t

i

t   

j

 

  


exp

 

e d

1

mix

,

(12)

247 where i j. We do not use the approximations of equation (11) when we carry out the

248 convolution in (12). Rather we solve for the actual values of the eigenvalues and

249 parameter a from the matrix in (9) at each yearly increment in temperature change. For

250

251 T

mix = 5 years, T mix will reach 0.483 T mix equil

mix equil

with a decay time of 200 years.

with a decay time of 2.5 years and rise to

252 The current consensus seems to be that

253 about half the full equilibrium forcing value (NRC, 2011, §3.3). The ratio of the heat storage

254 capacity of the deep to mixed layer,



s

C

1

mix

1

1

and the transient thermal response is

C

deep

is probably at least 20, a value adopted by

255 Solomon et al. (2011). Schwartz (2007) estimated the thermal response time of the mixed

256 layer at ~5 years from the temporal autocorrelation of sea surface temperatures. This may

257 be the best estimate of this parameter, but Schwartz notes that estimates range from 2 to

258 30 years. Fortunately the moderation of temperature change by the oceans does not

11

259

260

261

262

263

264

impact the benefit of substituting gas for coal and oil at all. It is of interest in defining the

cooling that substitution would produce, however. We calculate the transient temperature

changes for the full range of ocean moderation parameters.

Equations (1) to (10) plus (12), together with the parameters just discussed define

completely the methods we use to calculate the global warming caused by the fuel use

scenarios in Figure 1.

200 year A transition Carbon Dioxide [ppmv] 500 434 ppmv Bu sin e ss a
200 year
A
transition
Carbon Dioxide [ppmv]
500
434 ppmv
Bu sin e ss a s u su a l
100 year
327
transition
50 year
258
Su b sti t ute g as
transition
194
190
154
115
113
Low c ar b on f as t
66
0
0
100
200
Co ncentrati on Change
[ppmv carbon dioxide]
S u bstitu te ga s B u si n ess a s u s
S u bstitu te ga s
B u si n ess a s u s u al
 Methane [ppbv]
500
470 ppbv
B
428 ppbv
404
359
368
397
108
115
120
Low c ar bo n f as t
0
0
100
200
Concentratio n Change
[ppbv methane]

265

266

267

268

269

time [years] since 2005

Figure 2 Changes in (A) carbon dioxide and (B) methane concentrations computed for the three fuel scenarios

shown in Figure 1 and three different transition intervals (50 100 and 200 years). In this and subsequent figures

the blue curves indicate the business asusual fuel use scenario, the green curves indicate the substitutegas

scenario, and the red curves the low carbonfast scenario. The numbers indicate the change in concentrations of

12

270

271

CO2 and methane from the 379 ppmv for CO2 and 1774 ppbv for CH4 levels present in the atmosphere in 2005.

The calculation is based on L= 1% of gas consumption and V= 5 m

3 methane per ton of coal burned.

272

273

274

275

276

277

278

279

280

281 CO

282

Results

Figure 2 shows the additions of CO

2 in ppmv and methane in ppbv that occur for the

different fuel consumption scenarios show in Figure 1 for the three transition periods (50,

100 and 200 years). The methane leakage is assumed to be 1% of consumption. Five cubic

meters of methane are assumed to leak to the atmosphere for each ton of coal mined. The

atmospheric methane concentrations track the pattern of methane release quite closely

because methane is removed quickly from the atmosphere with an exponentially decay

constant of 12 years (equation 4b). On the other hand, because only a portion of the CO 2

introduced into the atmosphere by fuel combustion is removed quickly (see equation 4a),

2 accumulates across the transition periods and, as we will show below, persists for a

long time thereafter.

5 Carbon Dioxide busin ess as usua l 40% su bst itu te ga s
5
Carbon Dioxide
busin ess as usua l
40%
su bst itu te ga s
41%
42%
low car b on fas t
Methane
0
0
100
200
Radiative Forcing [W m -2 ]

283

284

285

286

287

288

time [years]

Figure 3 Radiative forcings calculated for the carbon dioxide and methane additions shown in Figure 2 using

equation (6) and assuming Ψ CH4=1.43. The blue curves indicate the business as usual scenario for the 50, 100

and 200 year transition periods, the green the substitutegas scenario, and the red the low carbon fast scenario.

The numbers indicate the reduction in CO2 forcing achieved by substituting gas, expressed as a percentage of the

reduction achieved by the low carbon fast scenario.

13

289 Figure 3 shows the radiative forcings corresponding to the atmospheric gas concentrations

290 shown in Figure 2 using equation (6). The methane forcing is a few percent of the CO 2

291 forcing, and thus is unimportant in driving greenhouse warming for a gas leakage rate of

292 1%.

293 Figure 4 shows the global warming predicted from the radiative forcings in Figure 3 for

294 various degrees of heat loss to the ocean. We take the equilibrium climate sensitivity

295 0.8 (e.g., a doubling of CO2 causes a 3°C of global warming). The faster transitions produce

296 less global warming because they put less CO

297 modulation of the oceans can reduce the warming by up to a factor of two. For example,

298 Figure 4A shows the global warming that would result from the business‐as‐usual scenario

299 if there were no heat losses to the ocean ranges from 1.5°C for the 50 year transition to

300 3.3°C for the 200 year transition. Figure 4C indicates that heat exchange to the oceans

301 could reduce this warming by a factor of two for the long transitions and three for the 50

302 year transition. A warming reduction this large is unlikely because it assumes extreme

303 parameter values: a deep ocean layer with a heat storage 50 times the shallow mixed layer,

304 and a long mixing time for the shallow layer (

305 likely ocean temperature change moderation based on mid‐range deep layer storage

mix = 50 years). Figure 4B indicates the more

1

s

=

2 into the atmosphere. The thermal

306 mix

C

deep

C

(

1

=20) and mixed layer response time (

mix = 5 years) parameter values.

307 The important message of this figure for the purposes of this paper, however, is not the

308 amount of warming that might be produced by the various fuel scenarios of Figure 1, but

309 the indication that the reduction in greenhouse warming from substituting gas for coal and

310 oil is not significantly affected by heat exchange with the ocean or by the duration of the

311 transition period. The same percent reduction in global warming from substituting gas for

312 coal and oil is realized regardless of the duration of the transition period or the degree of

313 thermal moderation by the ocean. The benefit of substituting gas is a percent or so less for

314 the short transitions, and the ocean moderation reduces the benefit by a percent or so, but

315 the benefit in all circumstances remains ~38%. Heat loss into the oceans may reduce the

316 warming by a factor of two, but the benefit of substituting gas is not significantly affected.

14

Temp erature Change [C ]

317

318

319

320

321

322

323

324

325

326

327

4 1% gas leakage    3.3 C b us ine ss as us
4
1% gas leakage
  
3.3
C
b us ine ss as us ual
3
no ocean mixing
2.7
C
2.3 C
su bs t it ute g as
2
39%
1.8
C
1.5 C
38%
1
low c ar bon fas t
0

3

2

1

0

3

2

1

0

 Cd /Cm=20,  mix =5 yrs 2.4 2.0 1.4 C 1.3 38% 0.8 C
 Cd /Cm=20,  mix =5 yrs
2.4
2.0
1.4 C
1.3
38%
0.8 C
37%

C

C

C

 Cd /Cm=50,  mix =50 yrs 1.7 C 1.4 C 1.1 C 37% 0.9
 Cd /Cm=50,  mix =50 yrs
1.7
C
1.4
C
1.1 C
37%
0.9
C
0.5 C
36%
0
50
100
150 200

time [years]

A.

39%

B.

38%

C.

38%

Figure 4. Global warming produced by the forcings in Figure 3 computed using equations (7, 10, and 12). The

blue curves indicate temperature changes under the businessas usual scenario for 50, 100 and 200 year

transition durations, and the green and red curves indicate the temperature changes for the substitute gas and

low carbon fast scenarios. The colored numbers indicate the temperature changes, and the black numbers the

reduction in temperature achieved by the substitutegas scenario expressed as a fraction of the temperature

reduction achieved by the low carbon fast scenario. (A) The warming when there is no thermal interaction with

the ocean (or the ocean layers thermally equilibrate very quickly). (B) Warming under a likely ocean interaction.

(C) Warming with a very high ocean thermal interaction. The ocean mixing parameters are indicated in (B) and

(C). All calculations assume gas leakage is 1% of consumption and the IPCC methane climate sensitivity.

15

328 Figure 5 compares the methane forcing of the substitute‐gas scenario to the CO

329 the business‐as‐usual scenario for the 50 and 100 year transition durations. The forcing

330 for the 1% methane curves are the same as in Figure 3, but is continued out to 200 years

331 assuming the fuel use remains the same as at the end of the of the transition period.

332 Similarly the business‐as‐usual curve is the same as in Figure 3 continued out to 200 years.

333 The figure shows that the methane forcing increases as the percent methane leakage

334 increases, and becomes equal to the CO

335 leakage is ~15% of consumption for the 50 year transition and 30% of consumption for the

2 forcing in the business‐as usual scenario when the

2 forcing of

336 100 year transition. At the end of the transition the methane radiative forcings fall to the

337 level that can be steadily maintained by the constant methane leakage associated with the

338 small continued natural gas consumption. The CO

339 scenario fall a bit and then rise at a slow steady rate, reflecting the proscription that 26% of

340 the CO

2 released to the atmosphere is only very slowly removed and 22% is not removed at

341 all (equation 3a). This slow rise emphasizes that even very low releases of CO

342 concern. The methane in the atmosphere would rapidly disappear in a few decades if the

343 methane venting were stopped, whereas the CO

344 significantly. Finally, Figure 5A shows that the greater methane climate sensitivity

345 proposed by Shindell et al (2009) (

346 equivalent to a 15% venting with

2 forcing under the business‐as‐usual

2 can be of

2 curves would flatten but not drop

=1.94) would make a 10% methane venting =1.43 (the IPCC methane climate sensitivity).

CH4

CH4

16

Radiative Forcing [W m -2 ]

347

348

349

350

351

352

353

354

355

356

[W m - 2 ] 347 348 349 350 351 352 353 354 355 356 2.5

2.5

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0

3.0

2.5

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0

50 year transition

A.

20% Leakage rate [% of consumption] 15% 10%     Substitute Gas 
20%
Leakage rate
[% of consumption]
15%
10%
  

Substitute Gas
  
B u sin es s a s Us u al
5%
1%

100 year transition

30%

25% B. Bu si nes s as Usu al 20% 15% 10% Substitute Gas 5%
25%
B.
Bu si nes s as Usu al
20%
15%
10%
Substitute Gas
5%
1%
0 50
100
150
200

time [years]

Figure 5. Radiative forcings of CO2 for the business as usual scenario (blue curves) and for CH4 for various gas

leakage rates in the substitute gas scenario (green curves). The 1% methane curves and the business as usual

curves are the same as in Figure 3 except the vertical scale is expanded and the curves are extended from the end

of the transition to 200 years assuming the gas emissions are the same as at the end of the transition past 100

years. The methane forcings plateau at the levels corresponding to the atmospheric concentration supported by

the steady CH4 emissions. The CO2 forcing increases because an appreciable fraction of the CO2 emissions are

removed slowly or not at all from the atmosphere. The methane forcings all assume the IPCC methane climate

sensitivity (CH4=1.43) except the single red curve, which assumes the methane climate sensitivity suggested by

Shindell et al. (2009) (CH4=1.94).

17

    Cd/C m=20, mix =5 yrs

C. 200 yr Transition

3.48 C B. 100yr Transition -1% 2.05 C A. 50yr Transition 35% 1% 1.30 C
3.48 C
B. 100yr Transition
-1%
2.05
C
A. 50yr Transition
35%
1%
1.30
C
20%
-6%
15%
1.84 C
1.19 C
17%
5%
2.69 C
10%
10%
39%
1.07
C
21%
5%
1.60
C
1%
1.5
1.5
1.5
40%
1%
0.96 C
40%
1%
0
0
0
0
50
0
100
0
200
Low Ca r r b on Fa st
Te m perature Change [C ]
Bu s i ne ss a s Usu al
Su bs t it ute G as

357

358

359

360

361

362

363

364

365

366

367

368

time [years]

Figure 6. Impact of methane leakage on global warming for transition periods of (A) 50, (B) 100, and (C) 200

years. As the leakage rate (green percentage numbers) increase, the warming of the substitutegas scenario

(green curves) increases, the blue businessas usual and green substitute gas curves approach one another and

then cross, and the percentage of the warming reduction attained by the fast substitution of low carbon energy

sources decrease and then become negative. The warmings assume the same exchange with the ocean as in

Figure 4B.

Figures 6 illustrates how the benefits of substituting gas for coal and oil disappear as the

methane leakage increases above 1% of total methane consumption. The figure shows the

global warming calculated for the ocean heat exchange show in Figure 4B. As the methane

leakage increases, the green substitute‐gas scenario curves rise toward and then exceed the

blue business‐as‐usual curves, and the benefit of substituting gas disappears. The gas

18

369 leakage at which substituting gas for oil and coal warms the earth more than the business‐

370 as‐usual scenario is smallest (L~10%) for the 50 year transition period and largest

371 (L~35%) for the 200 year transition period.

372 Figure 7 summarizes how the benefit of gas substitution depends on the gas leakage rate.

373 For the IPCC methane climate sensitivity (

=1.43), the benefit of substituting gas goes to

374 zero when the gas leakage is 44% of consumption (30% of production) for the 200 year

375 transition, 24% of consumption (19% of production) for the 100 year transition, and 13%

376 of consumption (12% or production) for the 50 year transition. For the Shindell et al.

377 climate sensitivity corresponding to

378 occurs at a gas leakage of ~9% of consumption, and reasonable ocean thermal mixing

379 reduces this slightly to ~8% of consumption (7.4% of production). This last is

380 approximately the cross‐over discussed by Howarth et al. (2011 and 2012). In their papers

381 they suggest a methane leakage rate as high as 8% of production is possible, and therefor

382 that natural gas could be as bad (if compared on the basis of electricity generation) or twice

383 as bad (if compared on a heat content basis) as coal over a short transition period. As

384 discussed in the next section, a leakage rate as high as 8% is difficult to justify. Figure 7

385 thus shows the significance of Shindell’s higher methane climate sensitivity to Howarth’s

386 proposition. Without it, an even less plausible methane leakage rate of 13% would be

387 required to make gas as bad or twice as bad as coal in the short term. Over the longer term,

388 substitution of gas is beneficial even at high leakage rates‐ a point completely missed by

389 Howarth et al.

CH4

CH4

=1.94, the crossover for the 50 year transition

19

390

Benefit of Gas Substitution 50 1 to 2% leakage 40 30 20 10 0 0
Benefit of Gas Substitution
50
1 to 2% leakage
40
30
20
10
0
0
5
10
15
Leakage [% of consumption]
%Percent low ‐C ‐ fast

391

Figure 7. The reduction of greenhouse warming attained by substituting natural gas for coal and oil (substitute

392

gas scenario), expressed as a percentage of the reduction attained by immediately substituting low carbon fuels

393

(low C fast scenario), plotted as a function of the gas leakage rate. At leakage rates less than ~1%, the benefit of

394

substituting natural gas is >40% that of immediately substituting low carbon energy sources. The benefit

395

declines more rapidly with leakage for short transitions. The top three curves assume an IPCC methane climate

396

sensitivity (CH4=1.43). The bottom two show the impact of the greater methane climate sensitivity suggested by

397

Shindell et al (2009) (