Natural gas, or methane, is the primary affordable, non-polluting fuel for heating, cooking, industry, and electricity generation across the world. However, American states including New England, New York, and a handful of other nations around the world are cutting their use.
Despite water vapor being the largest waste product from methane combustion, New England states have decided to curtail the use of gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont now pursue decarbonization targets that call for a 75 to 85 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. Adopting a policy of “strategic electrification”, these states aim to eliminate natural gas and propane from home and water heating applications by replacing them with electric appliances and heat pumps that use electricity from wind and solar systems.
With negligible environmental benefit, the most significant impact of eliminating natural gas and propane for heating will be the incredible increased cost for New England residents. In 2015, the US Department of Energy determined that 58 million Americans use natural gas as the primary heating fuel, and this is highest in New England, where hydrocarbons are the primary fuel for over 80 percent of homes. A 2017 study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority found that only four percent of the state’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning load could cost-effectively switch to heat pumps.
To proceed with their “strategic electrification” agenda, New England policymakers have blocked construction of new gas pipelines. As a result, New England now faces critical shortages. In January, utility Con Edison announced a moratorium on new natural gas customers in Westchester County, New York. That same month, Holyoke Gas & Electric of Massachusetts also announced that it can no longer accept new natural gas service requests due to a lack of supply. Particularly in winter months, New England residents pay high prices for heating and electricity and shortages can push residential gas prices up by as much as 400 percent.
Between 1965 to 2017, global natural gas consumption increased nearly six times, from 631 billion cubic meters to 3.7 trillion cubic meters per year. Gas use in North America doubled, increased in Europe by a factor of 14, and skyrocketed in Asia Pacific by a factor of more than 100. In 2017, natural gas delivered 23 percent of the world’s energy, up from about 15 percent in 1965. Today gas provides nine times as much global energy as wind and solar combined.
In 2017, the Netherlands’ government called for elimination of all natural gas usage by 2050. Despite the fact that 90 percent of Dutch homes are heated by natural gas, the government proposed that 170,000 gas lines would be disconnected every year, to be replaced by geothermal and heat pump systems. Last year Amsterdam announced a phase-out of natural gas in favor of more “sustainable” sources of energy.
Internationally, in contrast to efforts to curtail gas use in New England and Netherlands, global shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are exploding to help satisfy growing demand. World LNG trade increased 12 percent in 2017, 10 percent in 2018, and is projected to increase by another 11 percent in 2019. LNG demand is growing the fastest in China, South Korea, and Pakistan, and Japan and South Korea remain the world’s largest importers of liquefied natural gas. This LNG supply is dominated by shipments from Australia and the shale gas in the United States.