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Introduction: Why Natural Gas Use is Harming Our Climate and Communities

The entire lifecycle of natural gas, from extraction to burning, releases a substantial volume of greenhouse gases.largest emitters of methanenegative consequencesenvironmental and health externalities

The Greenhouse Gas Challenge of Natural Gas Usage

Natural gas combustion emits substantial greenhouse gases, despite releasing less carbon dioxide than coal or oil. Throughout its lifecycle, from extraction to combustion, it discharges both carbon dioxide and methane, the latter of which is highly potent in exacerbating the greenhouse effect.

Natural gas produces over 50% less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal, due to its lower emission factor. However, methane leaks throughout extraction and distribution risk negating the benefits of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Methane, being 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in intensifying the greenhouse effect and its ability to trap heat over a 20 year period is significant.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that natural gas and petroleum systems are the largest emitters of methane in the United States. Reducing methane emissions across the natural gas supply chain is crucial for mitigating its impact on global temperature fluctuations caused by climate change.

Transitioning from coal to natural gas can initially reduce environmental impacts. Yet, long-term decarbonisation through renewable sources like solar and wind energy is essential to mitigate severe global warming consequences.

Methane Leaks During Extraction and Transport

Methane leaks compromise natural gas’s environmental performance from extraction to transport. Recent studies estimate methane leaks from US oil and gas operations average 2.3%, which would fully offset gas’s lower CO2 emissions compared to coal.

Natural gas leaks, accompanied by water vapour emissions, are prevalent throughout the supply chain, including well drilling, hydraulic fracturing, storage, and pipeline transportation. Poor infrastructure like leaky pipes, valves and seals allow significant methane emissions to release into atmosphere.

This unutilized methane contributes to about a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by fossil fuel companies in the US natural gas industry. Halving leaks could bring about reductions in carbon emissions by 10%. New technologies like infrared cameras, aerial monitoring and advanced seals can help address this pressing issue.

While considered a clean-burning fossil fuel, natural gas’s environmental benefit is significantly compromised by leaks across its lifecycle. Minimising leaks is imperative in the transition from more polluting fossil fuel-based energy sources.

Emissions from Burning Natural Gas in Homes and Businesses

Using natural gas for domestic and commercial purposes, such as cooking and heating, introduces harmful air pollutants into indoor environments.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a main pollutant, exacerbates respiratory conditions such as asthma. In Epping, air pollution from natural gas usage is particularly concerning, with 34% of children suffering from conditions like asthma.

Estimations by the US Department of Health indicate that gas stoves are responsible for more than 12% of national childhood asthma cases. Proper installation and maintenance of gas appliances by qualified professionals like Epping Plumbing can help address this.

Natural gas combustion also produces carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds. Together, these emissions contribute to health problems including cardiovascular, neurological, and cancer-related issues, underscoring the need for fuel-efficient appliances. Implementing extraction ventilation over gas stoves and heaters can effectively remove these harmful emissions.

Although natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, its emissions within buildings present health concerns. Shifting to electric appliances, coupled with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, can effectively reduce both indoor and broader climatic impacts.

Causing Harm to Health and Air Quality

Beyond climate impacts, concerns about natural gas usage also include harms to human health and air quality.

Techniques such as hydraulic fracturing in gas extraction generate wastewater laden with toxic substances including heavy metals, radioactive materials, and volatile organic compounds. Spills or improper disposal of this wastewater can lead to significant water pollution, contaminating drinking water and harming communities.

Burning natural gas also emits oxide emissions such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and volatile organics that degrade outdoor and indoor air quality. This increases risks for respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, cancer and reproductive issues.

More than half of Sydney has exceeded national air quality standards in recent times, partly due to natural gas usage. Transitioning to renewable energy alternatives is key for protecting public health.

Damaging Disruptions to Ecosystems and Wildlife

The extraction, transportation and burning of natural gas can significantly disrupt local ecosystems and wildlife in concerning ways.

Shale gas extraction practices, such as constructing wells, access roads, and pipelines, fragment habitats, limiting species movement. The infrastructure also introduces invasive weeds, alters water flow patterns, and degrades water quality - harming aquatic life. Studies show forest loss and fragmentation near fracking infrastructure has reduced biodiversity.

Coastal liquified natural gas (LNG) facilities also negatively impact marine environments. Dredging harbours and shipping channels disturbs seafloor ecosystems, while pipeline construction destroys seagrass beds that support fisheries. Underwater noise pollution from facility construction further disrupts whales and fish.

Electricity generation from burning natural gas contributes to ecosystem damage, as emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides cause acid rain that affects lakes and streams. Mercury emissions bioaccumulate up food chains, reaching harmful levels in birds and fish.

As Australia is a significant LNG exporter, policies that promote renewable energy and provide stringent oversight of new gas projects are essential to balance environmental and economic interests.

Polluting Water and Soil Through Gas Development

Natural gas development from drilling, hydraulic fracturing, storage and pipelines can have negative consequences for water and soil quality if not properly regulated.

Fracking wastewater can contain remnants such as heavy metals, salts, and radioactive substances, which pose environmental risks. Spills or improper disposal often happen - a recent analysis found over 4,600 spills occurred in Colorado, harming surface and groundwater. Drilling fluid spills can also introduce toxic fracking chemicals into soil, stunting plant growth.

Other pathways like leaky oil and gas wells provide routes for methane and fracking chemicals like benzene to migrate into aquifers. This can contaminate drinking water sources, posing health risks like nausea, organ damage and cancer if ingested.

Constructing access roads, well pads and pipelines disturbs large land areas, leading to soil compaction and increased erosion. The elimination of indigenous vegetation during clearing also diminishes habitat quality. Stricter controls around spill prevention, land disturbance, and wastewater disposal are crucial for minimising risks.

The Pivotal Role of Natural Gas in Energy Transition

In power generation, natural gas may serve as a temporary bridge in the shift towards renewable energy sources, reducing the environmental impact on natural resources. When the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing, natural gas can serve as a gas fuel for power plants, providing reliable electricity to fill gaps and balance the grid.

In fact, pairing natural gas with intermittent renewables can enable higher penetrations of wind and solar on power systems. Since gas-fired power plants can ramp up and down quickly, they complement intermittent generation more easily than coalfired power or nuclear.

Yet, as with all fossil fuels, burning natural gas emits carbon dioxide. While leakage mitigation and improved efficiency could reduce emissions, natural gas use in power plants must peak and decline on a trajectory consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aim for net zero emissions by 2050.

Natural gas will therefore play a nuanced role going forward - helping maintain reliability as renewable penetration rises, but not replacing coal at scale or locking in emissions. Policies supporting renewable growth plus measures to limit gas leakage remain key.

Policy Pathways to Reduce Environmental Impacts

Sydney can significantly diminish environmental and health impacts by moving its gas consumption towards renewable alternatives. Policies encouraging households to switch gas heating and appliances to efficient electric models powered by rooftop solar would lower indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Sydney could also address methane emissions by replacing aging gas pipes through infrastructure improvement programs. Imposing stronger regulations on liquid natural gas facilities to curb marine ecosystem damage during harbour dredging could better balance environmental and economic needs.

Policies limiting new gas extraction while increasing renewable energy investments keep emissions in check during the energy transition. With Australias abundance of solar and wind resources, clean energy policies combined with market mechanisms that encourage alternatives to gas use offer practical pathways for reducing environmental consequences.

Consumer Actions for Lowering Gas Usage

There are practical steps Epping residents can take to lower gas usage and associated emissions. Installing intelligent thermostats ensures comfort while reducing heater operation times. Solar electricity paired with heat pump systems displace gas for water and space heating. Epping Plumbings expertise helps consumers implement these solutions. Continually assessing consumption and trialling innovations ensures emissions fall over time.

Upgrading to efficient gas appliances reduces energy demands - Epping Plumbing can advise on selecting models like condenser dryers or 5-star gas heaters. Transitioning certain processes to electric alternatives may increasingly make sense - induction cooktops avoid NO2 emissions from gas stoves. Commercial clients can benefit from heat recovery systems to repurpose waste heat, and building automation to enhance gas boiler efficiency.

Transitioning to Clean, Renewable Energy Sources

Shifting from natural gas to clean, affordable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower substantially mitigates environmental impacts.

Renewable energy costs have plummeted, slashing carbon emissions and becoming more cost-effective compared to natural gas. Residents of Epping can adopt rooftop solar panels, generating clean electricity and reducing reliance on gas. Using heat pumps powered by renewable electricity for water and space heating helps avoid natural gas use.

For larger scale renewable transitions, Epping Plumbing can advise commercial clients on solutions like ground-source heat pump systems for heating and cooling buildings without gas. Wastewater heat recovery installations capture thermal energy for reuse instead of natural gas heating.

With solar and wind now the cheapest sources of new electricity globally, the underlying economics increasingly favour renewable transitions. Epping Plumbing’s expertise in sustainably transitioning gas systems ensures residents and businesses minimise their environmental footprint through clean energy adoption.

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