Kassel. Upstream emissions from natural gas are low, as shown in a study by the technical institute for gas and environmental technology, DBI Gas- und Umwelttechnik. In other words, the energy source protects the environment even before it goes to work in the gas burner, as Dieter Rütten, Senior Political Advisor at WINGAS, explains.
Mr. Rütten, what is meant by upstream emissions?
These are the emissions that occur on the way to the consumer. How much CO2 is released when gas is burned in a heater can be determined scientifically. However, emissions are generated even before that, during the production, processing and transport of natural gas: when operating technical systems such as production derricks and compressors on the one hand, and, on the other, in the form of methane leakages. These upstream emissions must also be included in the overall balance.
What are the most important findings from the current DBI study?
The study confirms, according to the latest data for Europe, that natural gas is by far the most eco-friendly conventional energy source. Its upstream emissions amount to 29 grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour, 18 grams of which stem from the energy expended for extraction, transport and the like, and 11 from methane leakage. In terms of upstream emissions, natural gas therefore has a considerable climate advantage over other conventional energy sources. Added to this are the high efficiency levels of gas technologies, for instance through combined heat and power.
A study produced for the EU Commission in 2015 showed significantly higher upstream emissions for natural gas ...
That study examined the transport sector, where very little natural gas is used, and it contained obvious technical mistakes. There was a risk of the EU using incorrect figures as the basis for further regulations, especially since incredibly high values, in part, were being circulated in the media as far as the release of climate-damaging methane was concerned. The industry initiative ‘Zukunft ERDGAS’ (future of natural gas) therefore put a new study out to tender and ultimately commissioned the DBI technical institute. It is therefore now clear that there are no hidden emissions with natural gas; we can instead say exactly how much CO2 is emitted overall during the use of natural gas.
Did the figures in the study surprise you?
No, WINGAS itself commissioned a study itself two and a half years ago that arrived at similar results. At that time, the focus was on power generation and we had good data thanks to the study results. For instance, that the upstream chain emissions from hard coal amount to approximately 55 grams CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour, since it is imported from South Africa or Indonesia. That impressively demonstrates why Germany needs to get out of coal-fired power generation if it wants to achieve its climate goals. In the overall balance, power generation with coal generates more than double the CO2 than generation with natural gas.
How have upstream emissions from natural gas in Europe developed over the past years?
Thanks to greater efficiency in extraction, processing and transport, they have dropped steadily – by around ten percent in the last three years. Gazprom in particular is making huge efforts to become more efficient. Major efficiency improvements were made in Nord Stream alone. And, as the study shows, upstream chain emissions were also lowered in the process. This is because less energy is required for offshore transport and less methane is lost than by road transport.
The study can be downloaded here.