The Growing Importance of Natural Gas Production in the Energy Transition

An energy transition encompasses much more than reducing carbon emissions from power generation. It is also about introducing energy storage and electrifying primary industry and transportation systems.

This is where natural gas has a critical role as a bridge fuel, displacing relatively high-emitting coal and oil. 

Energy Independence

Natural gas can play an essential role in the energy transition by replacing more-polluting fossil fuels like coal and oil. This can help reduce emissions and improve air quality while supporting renewables as part of a flexible, diverse energy system. Natural gas production involves forcing water, chemicals, and sand into sedimentary rock formations to extract the natural gas trapped inside. Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, causes the rock to fracture, allowing natural gas to flow out of wells and into pipelines for transportation.

Once it is on the market, it is utilized to power industrial processes, generate energy, and heat and cook houses. To move people and commodities, it is also used as fuel.

As more countries move to phase out or shelve nuclear power, it becomes even more critical to have low-carbon backup options that can be rapidly deployed at times of peak demand. The ability to store natural gas and its relative ease of use make it a solid bridge fuel during the energy transition.

Energy Security

As the global energy transition accelerates, natural gas redefines its role in a low-carbon economy. Natural gas is an essential part of a system that provides flexible backup at peak energy demand times and can be used to help lower energy bills in homes and businesses. At the same time, renewables scale up, and other new technologies are developed.

Unlike coal or oil, which must be extracted from the ground, natural gas can be removed from various geological settings. These include conventional sources such as shale and tight formations and unconventional sources such as biogas. Biogas is created when organic matter – such as animal waste, sewage, or industrial byproducts – decomposes without oxygen. It can then be combusted to produce clean, green energy.

In addition to addressing long-term climate change, energy security is an essential priority in many developing countries. Governments play a crucial role in ensuring secure energy transitions by tackling market distortions (notably fossil fuel subsidies) and correcting market failures. 

Lower Carbon Emissions

Natural gas, derived from the chemical methane (one carbon atom plus four hydrogen atoms), supplies about 22 percent of the world’s energy. It is found underground, similar to oil, in sedimentary basins around the globe. The gas is extracted by drilling wells into the earth, then pumping it through pipes to customers.

Natural gas is less harmful than other fossil fuels since it emits half as much carbon dioxide when burned as coal. As a result, natural gas is an integral part of a clean energy future.

It’s also a valuable complement to renewables, as it can quickly fill gaps when the sun doesn’t shine, or the wind blows. And unlike wind and solar, it’s a reliable power source not dependent on weather conditions.

Moreover, because it’s lighter than air, the gas can be compressed to be transported long distances through pipelines. This allows it to reach far-flung markets and help reduce reliance on imports.

In addition to conventional natural gas, unconventional gas comes from tight rock formations (tight shale and coalbed methane) or ocean sediment layers. New technology and knowledge are helping make this type of natural gas more accessible and economical to extract.

Economic Growth

In residential houses, natural gas is utilized for cooking, heating, and powering equipment. For processing trash, cooking, and refining metals, stone, clay, and petroleum on a grander scale in commercial and industrial settings.

The North American shale industry is expected to continue driving global production growth through 2025, increasing at 1.5% annually. Over 70% of this increase comes from the United States as it ramps up to service new LNG export facilities. A gas boom increases employment, wage, and salary income in terms of direct economic impacts. IV analysis suggests that, on average, a million dollars in additional production leads to 1,780 more jobs and $69 million in wage and salary income in boom counties relative to non-boom counties from 1998 to 2007. 

Fuel for Electricity

As the world moves toward decarbonization, natural gas can play an important role. But it will depend on where that role is defined and what policies and incentives are in place.

The most prominent role of natural gas in the energy transition is as a fuel for electricity generation. It currently represents over one-third of all the gas used for electricity production in the United States. Its lower emissions compared to coal make it an excellent substitute.

But electricity isn’t the only area where gas can deliver climate benefits: Substituting other fossil fuels in transportation and industry can also aid in lowering carbon dioxide emissions.

 This is already happening in many countries, including the United States.

In these sectors, gas can also provide flexibility. Moreover, it can store energy in the form of hydrogen, which will become increasingly crucial for the energy system. Indeed, the EU’s current policy on hydrogen mentions that it can complement renewables and reduce their emissions. In other words, it can play a bridge role to a climate-neutral economy.

Natural gas’s role as a fuel for electricity generation will likely be determined by how much it is needed to offset the declining share of nuclear and coal in the power mix. It can displace coal altogether depending on how cheap it is and how much carbon pricing is implemented. In some markets, however, it will have to settle for playing a seasonally balancing role or as a backup to hydropower or intermittent renewables.

made available for consumption. Hydraulic fracturing, sometimes known as “fracking,” is a process that fractures the rock formation and releases natural gas by applying high pressure to water, chemicals, and sand in a well.