A global surge in natural-gas production thanks to hydraulic fracturing would not slash global greenhouse-gas emissions even though the fuel emits much less carbon dioxide than coal when consumed, according to a new peer-reviewed study in the journal Nature.
The findings from researchers in several nations, using separate computer models of the effects of abundant global supplies, questions the conventional wisdom that natural gas is a "bridge fuel" to a low-carbon energy system.
Natural gas boosters say expanded deployment of natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive than coal and oil, can check rising emissions while carbon-free sources like solar energy achieve greater scale.
But the paper projects that if the North American gas boom spreads globally, "Future CO2 emissions are similar in magnitude with and without abundant gas, as the two emission trajectories continue to rise over time at similar rates."
The paper released Wednesday, which projects the evolution of global energy use through 2050, concludes that large global gas supplies would not only crowd out some coal, but zero-emissions nuclear and renewable energy as well.
"The additional gas supply boosts its deployment, but the substitution of coal is rather limited and it might also substitute low-emission renewables and nuclear, according to our calculations," said Nico Bauer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, a coauthor of the paper.