Uncertainty in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from United States natural gas end-uses and its effects on policy.Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Oct 01; 45(19):8182-9.ES
Increasing concerns about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States have spurred interest in alternate low carbon fuel sources, such as natural gas. Life cycle assessment (LCA) methods can be used to estimate potential emissions reductions through the use of such fuels. Some recent policies have used the results of LCAs to encourage the use of low carbon fuels to meet future energy demands in the U.S., without, however, acknowledging and addressing the uncertainty and variability prevalent in LCA. Natural gas is a particularly interesting fuel since it can be used to meet various energy demands, for example, as a transportation fuel or in power generation. Estimating the magnitudes and likelihoods of achieving emissions reductions from competing end-uses of natural gas using LCA offers one way to examine optimal strategies of natural gas resource allocation, given that its availability is likely to be limited in the future. In this study, the uncertainty in life cycle GHG emissions of natural gas (domestic and imported) consumed in the U.S. was estimated using probabilistic modeling methods. Monte Carlo simulations are performed to obtain sample distributions representing life cycle GHG emissions from the use of 1 MJ of domestic natural gas and imported LNG. Life cycle GHG emissions per energy unit of average natural gas consumed in the U.S were found to range between -8 and 9% of the mean value of 66 g CO(2)e/MJ. The probabilities of achieving emissions reductions by using natural gas for transportation and power generation, as a substitute for incumbent fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and coal were estimated. The use of natural gas for power generation instead of coal was found to have the highest and most likely emissions reductions (almost a 100% probability of achieving reductions of 60 g CO(2)e/MJ of natural gas used), while there is a 10-35% probability of the emissions from natural gas being higher than the incumbent if it were used as a transportation fuel. This likelihood of an increase in GHG emissions is indicative of the potential failure of a climate policy targeting reductions in GHG emissions.