Natural gas is considered to be a fossil fuel. Compared to other fossil fuels like oil or coal, however, the emissions that are produced from burning natural gas are considered to be much lower. This mean the natural gas environmental impacts are not as severe as other fossil fuels, but there are still several areas of concern which must be acknowledged.
1. Drilling and extraction activities can cause leaks.
The primary issue of concern in this area is the leaking of methane, which is a primary component of natural gas. Methane is over 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat when evaluated over a time period of at least a century.
2. Drilling for natural gas releases two hazardous air pollutants.
Developing a well for natural gas is known to create ozone and particulate matter. These are regulated in the United States because of their harmful effects on the environment and personal health. Exposure in local areas where drilling is heavy can lead to heart disease, asthma, respiratory issues, and even certain cancers.
3. Natural gas development changes land use.
Sites must be cleared to begin drilling for natural gas. Transportation infrastructures must be put into place. In some instances, land owners may not own the rights to the natural gas on their property, which means they would be forced to have these development efforts take place even if they were not wanted.
4. There may be groundwater contamination concerns at the local level.
Most natural gas is accessed by fracturing the well, which requires a slurry of chemicals and water that can leak into local groundwater sources. Some of the materials may be radioactive in nature, while others may contribute a higher level of methane to the atmosphere.
5. Some earthquakes are associated with natural gas development.
Most earthquakes associating with well fracturing are generally 2.0 or less in magnitude, but many are much higher. It is estimated that over 50% of the 4.5 magnitude or greater earthquakes that occur in the central interior of the United States occur because of fracturing activities. This puts structures, businesses, and lives at risk.
The natural gas environmental impact is lower than other fossil fuels. This makes it a reasonable alternative for energy, but it may not be the best possible solution that we have available to us today.