Global warming and the evaluation of fuel substitution strategies: on why policy should be left to the politicians
by Anthony G. Heyes
International Journal of Global Energy Issues (IJGEI), Vol. 5, No. 2/3/4, 1993

Abstract: It is often taken for granted that substituting natural gas for oil will serve to reduce the greenhouse emissions of the energy sector, and executing such substitution is thus seen as a coherent policy response to the problem of global warming. In this paper we argue that such a policy is ill-founded because the supposition on which it rests is based on an incomplete consideration of the comparative pollution characteristics of the two fuels. The consideration is incomplete in two senses: (i) authors focus on emissions of carbon dioxide to the virtual exclusion of the secondary greenhouse gases, and (ii) attention is paid only to those emissions which result from fuel combustion, rather than to emissions from the entire fuel cycle (including extraction, distribution and storage). In this paper we adopt a simple, empirical 'emissions-accounting' framework [28]. Using a range of plausible parameter values it is demonstrated that the 'greenhouse friendliness' ranking of natural gas and oil is highly ambiguous. We cite very recent engineering estimates of methane leakage associated with commercial natural gas distribution and go on to demonstrate that natural gas usage may result in the emission of more greenhouse gases than oil usage. The ambiguity in the ranking is driven by two major uncertainties, one technological and one political. The most significant implication is that the resolution of the technical uncertainty surrounding the greenhouse effect and man's impact upon global climate will not be sufficient to determine what constitutes an effective policy response. The determination of policy will be an essentially political problem. Policy formulation and determination should, as the title suggests, be left to the politicians.

Online publication date: Thu, 17-Jul-2014

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