Is gas clean, safe and indispensable like claimed by gas companies? Scientists and policy analysts disagree amid revelations that the industry spent over €100 million in 2016 alone to influence EU climate and energy policy.
A new report by Corporate Europe Observatory showed this week that the gas industry spent €104 million in 2016 and deployed well over 1000 lobbyists to lobby EU commissioners in charge of climate and energy policy.
The analysis of the EU transparency filings also highlights that public interest groups have a fraction of the resources and access.
Here METAmag looks at the most common arguments put forward by the gas industry to ensure Europe remains locked into fossil fuels for the next decades.
“Gas is one of the cleanest, safest and most reliable sources of energy.”
Not so fast, scientists warned. While emitting half as much carbon as coal, methane emissions resulting from gas drilling, extraction and transportation through pipelines have generated growing concern among the scientific community.
Methane, the main constituent of natural gas, accounts for 16% of global greenhouse gases but is estimated to be 25 times more potent than carbon. This means it has a much more powerful warming effect, despite the fact that it dissolves in the atmosphere faster than carbon.
Leaks generally occur during the production and transportation process. The gas industry was leaking between 2 and 4 percent of the gas produced between 2006 and 2011, according to research. Leakage above 3 percent is enough to offset the climate benefits claimed by gas companies.
Frequent concerns also include increasing air pollution, albeit to a lesser extent than coal, and water contamination.
“Gas is a necessary “bridging fuel” to a post-carbon society.”
Policy experts reject the claim that gas will help governments achieve Europe’s climate targets, arguing that on the contrary it will undermine plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the long term.
The industry’s own projections suggest that in 2040 emissions from gas will still amount to 600mt of CO2 equivalent, which translates into 13% of today’s emissions.
Lisa Fischer, Policy Advisor at climate change think tank E3G, says these numbers are inconsistent with the EU roadmap’s 80-95% reduction target by 2050 or with the zero emissions society envisaged in the Paris Agreement.
“The gas industry’s most recent projections are pushing to delay action to achieve the EU’s climate targets until the last minute. This risks a disorderly phase out of natural gas and wasting valuable investments that could go to future oriented, real low carbon technologies instead,” she told METAmag.
“Gas demand will continue to grow in the coming years.”
Analysts have reasons to believe this claim is based on inaccurate projections.
ENTSO-G, the industry group made up of gas infrastructure companies advising the European Commission, has a track record of overestimating gas demand.
For example, despite previous projections of a significant increase, EU gas demand in 2016 fell by a fifth compared to 2010 figures.
Fischer said calculations are generally based on short-term and limited factors such as the switch from gas to coal and temperature variations. But long-term drivers tend to be ignored. These include the rapid decline in costs of renewables compared to gas; increasing energy efficiency for buildings and energy-guzzling products; and a shift in demand from heating to cooling, which is more power-based, due to rising average temperatures.
“…and gas will be a secure source of energy.”
Those who stand for energy efficiency also argue that gas is an expensive obstacle to the market uptake of renewable energy, rather than a secure source of energy.
Anton Lazarus, a spokesperson for the European Environmental Bureau, said:
There is an historic consensus on the need to act on climate change to preserve the planet for future generations, and lower the risk of serious weather events within our own lifetimes.
Rather than investing in an expensive mistake, we need to see industry cutting the amount of energy being wasted and backing proven renewables. Gas is not the answer.
Similar conclusions were also highlighted in the recent report by Corporate Europe Observatory:
“Rather than investing in wind, wave, and solar energy and reducing energy use, the EU’s security of supply strategy sees yet more pipelines planned to increase gas from Azerbaijan and Algeria (two countries with poor human rights records), as well as multiple others criss-crossing across Europe.”