Natural gas is not as effective as it is thought to be in improving Earth's climatic condition, suggest scientists.

Even though natural gas emits far less carbon dioxide than coal, its effectiveness in solving Earth's climate woes has been questioned by a new U.S. study.

Debate over Coal vs. Natural Gas

The debate over coal vs. natural gas has been there for many years. When one group of scientists point out on the negative side of using coal, another group supports using coal, maybe, a new variant of coal which is less harmful for the climate, saying although coal causes global warming by emitting heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it also discharges a great amounts of other gas and particles which block the sunlight and keep the planet's temperature low.  

The advocates of natural gas thought it would be an easy game against coal as they held the winning card of environmental benefits. The game, however, is complicated!

A study done by Cornell ecologist Robert Howarth showed natural gas was more capable of creating worse impact on climate than coal due to its methane leakage problem.

Another study done by the National Center on Atmospheric Research (NCAR) also supported Howarth saying, although natural gas emits very less amount of carbon dioxide, it has a great probability of increasing global temperature and a very less chance of improving the climate.

Tom Wigley, a senior research associate at the National Center on Atmospheric Research, believes the shift from coal to natural gas will increase the global temperature till 2050 and after that natural gas will be able to decelerate Earth's temperature but that only by a few tenths of a degree.

From the CO2 perspective, gas is cleaner, but from the climate perspective, it gets complicated, believes Wigley.

Natural Gas and Methane Leakage

Natural gas emits methane which is much more potent to cause greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, believe scientists. Even if methane leakage can be restricted to 2.5 percent or less, global warming will not be reduced more than 0.08 degree Celsius by 2100 which is negligible.  

If only methane leakage rates can be kept below 2 percent, substituting gas for coal will be an effective means for plummeting the degree of future climate change, the NCAR research said.

Another much criticized aspect of natural gas is hydraulic fracturing, the techniques of harvesting natural gas from underground formations. The process involves dislodging gas by blasting water and chemicals deep underground and hence contaminates water supplies with methane, warned environmentalists.