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U.S. Can Ensure Climate Security With Differentiated Natural Gas

March 7, 2022, 9:00 AM

Russia’s recent unprovoked and unlawful invasion of Ukraine demonstrates the linkage between energy security and national security. With this latest Russian aggression, the U.S. has an opportunity to demonstrate that energy security can advance climate security, while increasing natural gas exports to our allies.

Currently, Russia is the world’s largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, providing more than 30% of the continent’s consumption in 2020. While this volume of gas cannot be replaced overnight, Europe should reduce its dependence on Russian gas exports.

The U.S. can take some of Russia’s market share, particularly if it offers what Europe clearly wants: an energy supply that certifiably minimizes climate damages. Thus, a clean energy strategy can deliver strategic, economic, and environmental benefits—to both the U.S. and our allies.

Innovative American technology is already leading the way, promoting a nascent market—a differentiated natural gas market—that will allow the U.S. to export natural gas and engineer needed climate solutions to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Differentiated natural gas is marketed with information about the GHG emitted because of its production and transport. In a world concerned about climate change, a fuel with a smaller GHG footprint should have a competitive advantage.

A major contributor to the GHG footprint is the natural gas lost to the atmosphere because of accidental leaks and deliberate vents. Pipeline-grade natural gas is about 95% methane, a potent GHG. The February 2022 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed their August 2021 report, specifically calling for action on methane emissions. Recently the Biden administration challenged the world to reduce its methane emissions 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

The U.S. should encourage the growth of a market for differentiated natural gas, in which emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane are tracked. According to a recent report, the emergence of new technologies needed to enable a differentiated gas market, one based on environmental performance, should build upon three key elements—transparency, trust, and transactability—to enhance the credibility of natural gas suppliers across the supply chain.

Leading and emerging methane-measuring sensors and systems, devised and built in the U.S. and Europe, promote transparency because they enable quantification of methane emissions. Similarly, these tools enhance trust when they provide reliable data to regulators, investors, and other stakeholders making policy and investment decisions.

These tools, combined with increased digitalization, will also promote transactability, providing companies and governments that have net-zero goals with validated, actionable environmental performance data.

How the U.S. Can Lead in This Market

To establish America’s leadership in the differentiated natural gas market and to guide policymakers, we offer three recommendations:

First, the U.S. needs to accelerate private sector pilots and collaborative efforts. Meaningful initiatives are already underway between new technology providers, the natural gas industry, research and academic institutions such as the Gas Technology Institute and the Colorado School of Mines, and leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Environmental Defense Fund and RMI. Best practices emerging from these efforts will be key as this market scales.

Second, U.S. policymakers and regulators should embrace technology and digitalization—the technologies being developed and deployed today could eventually be utilized to continuously monitor and measure emissions from the wellhead to the burner tip.

Third, the U.S. should identify the proper role of the federal government, specifically to assist in facilitating the certification, standardization, and interoperability of high-quality data and verification needed to gain credibility in the eyes of NGOs, policymakers, and markets.

Both Democrats and Republicans can lead together to advance differentiated gas markets, promoting U.S. national security, domestic economic vitality, and leadership in climate issues.

Opportunities to facilitate bipartisan solutions include: developing a certification program at the Department of Energy; working with the State Department to educate overseas buyers and expedite the export of technologies and best practices from these collaborative efforts; and collaborating with the Environmental Protection Agency to update and adopt common-sense regulations that allow utilization of advanced measurement technologies to reduce methane emissions.

Promoting differentiated natural gas may be the one way that demonstrably moves the needle toward reducing methane emissions by 2050—it may also be the only way that the U.S. can securely provide cleaner natural gas to our allies, protecting our national security, domestic economic interests, and the global environment.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Tom Hassenboehler is a partner at COEFFICIENT and previously served as the chief counsel for energy and environment at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce under Chairmen Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Robert L. Kleinberg (Ph.D.) is a senior research scholar at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy and a senior fellow at the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.