Natural Gas vs Oil

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Natural gas vs. oil, which is more affordable -when considering efficiency- to heat a home? The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that the average American will spend approximately $732 heating their home with natural gas during this winter season, compared to an estimated $2,535 for oil heat. Scientific American states that the price for natural gas has remained steady throughout the years, as opposed to the price for oil which has gone up and down due to the unrest in the Middle East. Two years ago, the average winter home heating bill was $1,752.

Energy analysts compared the future costs of natural gas vs. oil. They cited that the price for oil is likely to remain “high and volatile in the foreseeable future.” However,  the pricing for gas -which a significant amount is produced domestically- is not expected to fluctuate or rise considerably in the United States anytime soon. The analysts say that, if anything, the price for natural gas will decrease as drillers are preparing to open the Marcellus Shale to increase gas development. The costs of installation for a gas line to home is significantly more expensive than the installation of an oil heating system. However, advocates for natural gas state that the savings offered from a gas heating system will pay back the upfront installations in only a few years. In the United States, a natural gas heater is the cheapest form of heat production, ground source heating power is a close second.

In terms of environmental friendliness, many opinions are offered in the subject of natural gas vs. oil. In terms of carbon emissions, natural gas emits far less carbon than oil. However, hydraulic fracturing, nicknamed- fracking, has become a highly controversial and politically contended issue. The process involves drillers injecting water, sand, and other chemicals at high pressure underneath the earth’s crust. This process breaks through rock to access the natural gas. Environmentalists have stated that this process damages regional water quality and surrounding ecosystems. Although natural gas emits up to 50 percent less carbon than oil, it also emits methane. Methane, when unburned, is 70 percent more potent than carbon. One study found that during the drilling for natural gas, if as little as three percent of the methane escapes (not burned), the companies might as well be mining for coal.

Many environmental scientists have eschewed the debate of natural gas vs. oil, citing that the current climate crisis demands more than a “bridge fuel.” A bridge fuel -which is what natural gas is considered to be- is an energy source that is less environmentally damaging and more renewable than current resources (oil, coal), but not as renewable or clean as the sources that environmentalists advocate for popularization (solar, wind, geothermal). A representative from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) stated that the risks of mining for natural gas and the amount of resources put into the process, are a dissonance: indicating that resources for gas drilling would be much better suited (environmentally speaking) implemented in the production of solar and wind power.

By Andres Loubriel

The New York Times
CME Group
Scientific American
The Energy Collective