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Jul 21, 2014 02:05 PM EDT

Natural Gas May Not Help Fight Global Warming

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Officers practice hand-to-hand combat at 16,000 feet in the beautiful Himalayas

Replacing coal and oil with natural gas will not help fight global warming, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that both shale gas and conventional natural gas have a larger greenhouse gas footprint than coal or oil, especially for the primary uses of residential and commercial heating.

"While emissions of carbon dioxide are less from natural gas than from coal and oil, methane emissions are far greater. Methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that these emissions make natural gas a dangerous fuel from the standpoint of global warming over the next several decades," Dr. Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology, said in a statement. "Society should wean ourselves from all fossil fuels and not rely on the myth that natural gas is an acceptable bridge fuel to a sustainable future."

For the study, researchers assessed the best available data and analyzed greenhouse gas footprints for both methane (including shale gas and conventional gas) and carbon dioxide over a timescale of 20-years following emissions. 

Previous studies have also found that applying too much fertilizer may speed up global warming.

Researchers from Michigan State University found that emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas produced in the soil after nitrogen-based fertilizer is added, rise faster than previously expected when fertilizer rates exceed crop needs.

They found that nitrogen-based fertilizers spur greenhouse gas emissions by stimulating microbes in the soil to produce more nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas, behind only carbon dioxide and methane, and also destroys stratospheric ozone. Agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of human-caused nitrous oxide emissions worldwide, which have increased substantially in recent years, primarily due to increased nitrogen fertilizer use.

The recent findings were published in Energy Science and Engineering.

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