Canada’s natural gas industry is booming. The money and the gas are both flowing through the country, with no predicted interruption in sight. Many Canadians are very happy with the growth and development of this industry, citing jobs, economy and a reliable and affordable source of energy as major advantages. Others, however, are much more concerned about the potential downfalls of the natural gas industry, such as negative impacts on the environment and on local communities.
The natural gas industry is a very complex beast, not easily broken down into either a positive or a negative thing for Canada and Canadians. A quick glance at some of the major pros and cons shows just how complicated the situation actually is.
Canada’s natural gas industry: the positives
From an economical standpoint, natural gas is very good for consumers. It is currently the most widely available, affordable and reliable way to heat and cool homes in Canada’s extreme climate. Based on numbers from the Canadian Gas Association, 56% of homes use natural gas as an energy source. Using it to heat a home, instead of other energy sources such as oil and electricity, can save a consumer thousands of dollars every year.
A cleaner fossil fuel
Natural gas is the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels. It releases fewer harmful emissions, and therefore might have less of a negative impact on the environment than other, “dirtier” fuels. While it does still emit carbon into the air, supporters focus on the fact that the emissions are much lower when burning natural gas than when burning oil or coal.
There’s an abundant supply of natural gas in North America. According to the International Energy Association, the United States be the world’s biggest producer of natural gas by 2020. In Canada alone, we have access to over a century’s worth of natural gas supply. Because natural gas is available domestically, Canada is less reliant on foreign sources for its energy needs.
According to the Canadian Gas Association, natural gas accounts for over 3 billion dollars of Canada’s gross domestic product. What’s more, they predict that the natural gas industry will inject over 1.3 trillion dollars into Canada’s economy over the next 25 years. The natural gas industry also accounts for billions of dollars in exports every year.
There are currently over 15 000 full-time jobs in the natural gas transmission and distribution industry in Canada. Many of these jobs are very well-paid and provide opportunities for advancement. In addition to those jobs, there are over 80 000 people indirectly employed by the natural gas industry, according to the Canadian Gas Association. It was predicted last year that 9500 more jobs would need to be filled in the Canadian oil and gas industry before 2015.
Natural gas is very efficient. When used to run home appliances, it has an efficiency rate of 98%. It is 80% efficient at producing electricity. It can also be used in the transportation industry.
Renewable natural gas
Renewable natural gas – made from methane from biowaste – has the same properties as regular natural gas. It can be transported and used in homes, businesses and industries. It is, however, renewable because it is produced from agricultural and forestry waste, as well as municipal waste and sewage.
Canada’s Natural Gas Industry: The Negatives
Accessing shale gas requires hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a controversial collection technology with many potential environmental effects. Critics point out that the process of actually collecting the gas can have disastrous effects, including water pollution and the use of potentially dangerous chemicals. Also, while supporters of natural gas point out that it is one of the cleaner-burning fossil fuels, it still emits carbon when burned.
Local water contamination
There are major concerns about the contamination of local water sources due to fracking. Fracking requires the withdrawal of large amounts of ground and surface water, which can have an effect both on the volume and on the quality of drinking water. Chemical spills and leaks might find their way to drinking water sources. Fracking may also draw toxins and chemicals up from the ground into water aquifers. There are ongoing studies aimed at determining the effects of fracking on drinking water quality.
While there are advances being made in the area of renewable natural gas, the vast majority of Canada’s gas consumption comes from deeply buried non-renewable deposits. While there is reportedly enough of this shale gas in Canada to last 100 years, it will not last forever.
Dependence on non-renewable energy sources
There are concerns that the recent oil and gas boom might set back research into renewable sources of energy, including nuclear, wind and solar energy. Many people believe that society will not embrace renewable energy sources until they are forced to, either by a lack of resources or by extremely high prices.
Natural gas is composed mainly of methane, which is thought to be a major contributor to greenhouse gases.
The transportation of natural gas is a huge undertaking that requires digging and building an extensive network of pipelines. These pipelines can disrupt wildlife and ecosystems. It also requires transportation by ground or by ship, which comes with its own set of environmental concerns.
Potentially unstable prices
While natural gas is currently – and has been for some time – the most affordable option for heating homes, its price is not guaranteed to stay stable. Gas and oil prices may fluctuate without warning.
The natural gas industry in Canada is huge and complex, with strong and passionate arguments from both critics and supporters. It isn’t easy to define the natural gas industry as simply “good” or “bad”.
Regardless of an individual’s personal beliefs, the fact remains that Canada’s natural gas industry is a huge part of its economy, and it will in all likelihood continue to be so for many years. With more research, technological advances and analysis, the industry will – hopefully – one day be able to strike a balance between the positive and the negative impacts of natural gas.
Sam Jones keenly watches the energy market researching and reviewing the cheapest gas supplier, He suggests uSwitch.com comparison website as a great place for his readers to carry out their own research.
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