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A review of water and greenhouse gas impacts of unconventional natural gas development in the United States

  • Douglas Arent (a1), Jeffrey Logan (a1), Jordan Macknick (a1), William Boyd (a2), Kenneth Medlock (a3), Francis O'Sullivan (a4), Jae Edmonds (a5), Leon Clarke (a5), Hillard Huntington (a6), Garvin Heath (a7), Patricia Statwick (a7) and Morgan Bazilian (a8)...
Abstract

This paper reviews recent developments in the production and use of unconventional natural gas in the United States with a focus on water and greenhouse gas emission implications. If unconventional natural gas in the U.S. is produced responsibly, transported and distributed with little leakage, and incorporated into integrated energy systems that are designed for future resiliency, it could play a significant role in realizing a more sustainable energy future; however, the increased use of natural gas as a substitute for more carbon intensive fuels will alone not substantially alter world carbon dioxide concentration projections.

This paper reviews recent developments in the production and use of unconventional natural gas in the United States with a focus on environmental impacts. Specifically, we focus on water management and greenhouse gas emission implications. If unconventional natural gas in the United States is produced responsibly, transported and distributed with little leakage, and incorporated into integrated energy systems that are designed for future resiliency, it could play a significant role in realizing a more sustainable energy future. The cutting-edge of industry water management practices gives a picture of how this transition is unfolding, although much opportunity remains to minimize water use and related environmental impacts. The role of natural gas to mitigate climate forcing is less clear. While natural gas has low CO2 emissions upon direct use, methane leakage and long term climate effects lead to the conclusion that increased use of natural gas as a substitute for more carbon intensive fuels will not substantially alter world carbon dioxide concentration projections, and that other zero or low carbon energy sources will be needed to limit GHG concentrations. We conclude with some possible avenues for further work.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Address all correspondence to Douglas Arent at Doug.Arent@nrel.gov
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