It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here on Strocel.com, and today I’m taking a look at some alternative sources of natural gas. It’s my One Green Thing for September. But before I get into that, if you’re wondering how my One Green Thing for August went, you can read Plastic: Taking Steps to Reduce my Consumption.
Now, on to this month. Here where I live, most houses rely on natural gas – which is mostly methane – for heat. Natural gas is abundant here in Western Canada, and so it’s not surprising that we would use it. It burns much more cleanly, and emits less carbon dioxide, than coal and oil. However, when we extract it from the ground and burn it, we are still extracting a fossil fuel and emitting carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Plus, there’s an environmental impact associated with mining this gas, especially when controversial methods like fracking are used.
I’ve taken basic steps to reduce my natural gas consumption, like taking shorter showers (my hot water heater runs on natural gas), buying a programmable thermostat and lowering the temperature in my house during the winter months. But there’s only so far I can go with this – I’ll never be able to completely eliminate my reliance on natural gas. And truthfully any other heat source I used would also require energy and carry a carbon footprint. Enter renewable natural gas, or biogas.
As I explained earlier, natural gas is basically methane, which is produced whenever organic matter biodegrades without oxygen. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, which is one argument for composting. When you send a head of lettuce, say, to the landfill, it’s buried and it decomposes in an environment without oxygen. This produces methane. In comparison, if you compost that lettuce it will decompose in the presence of oxygen, and it will produce carbon dioxide.
If you can harvest the methane that is produced when organic matter decomposes in landfills and elsewhere, you can burn it just like the natural gas that is extracted through mining operations. There’s a key difference between the two sources, though. Renewable natural gas, or biogas, is considered carbon neutral. Let’s think back to that head of lettuce I was talking about. While it does produce carbon dioxide when it decomposes, that process is considered carbon neutral. This is because plants breathe in carbon dioxide. The carbon in that lettuce came from the atmosphere. When it’s released again, it’s not adding new carbon to the air. When you burn fossil fuels, on the other hand, you’re releasing carbon that’s spent millenia trapped underground, which is not carbon neutral.
Fortunately, the gas company here in British Columbia has a biogas program. It gets its biogas from landfills and agricultural waste. When you sign up, they say that they will inject 10% of the amount of gas you use each year into their system in the form of biogas. I played with their rate calculator and based on my consumption last year it will cost me about $50 annually and save 0.35 tonnes of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere. I will also pay less carbon tax because I’ll be emitting less. These are good things, so I enrolled.
While I drank the biogas kool-aid, my husband remains skeptical. He feels that the gas company should be converting to biogas whether we pay for it or not. He also doesn’t believe that they’re calculating exactly how many people have enrolled and injecting that specific amount of gas into the system. He may be right. However, for me that’s not the point. I believe that the more people who ask for programs like these, and take advantage of them when they’re offered, the more common they’ll become. Whether I’m getting exactly what I’m paying for, or I’m investing in infrastructure and voting with my wallet, I’m okay. I’m willing to trust that my actions will have an impact.
Biogas isn’t just used for heating homes. It can also be used to generate electricity, and the anaerobic digesters that produce biogas can also generate high-quality fertilizers. Next Enviro-Mama Thursday I’ll be highlighting a local project that is harvesting the waste from dairy cows to produce electricity. It’s going to be all renewable energy all the time up in here – I bet you can’t wait.
Right now, though, I wonder what you think – would you consider signing up for biogas if it was available? Or are you with my husband on this one? Share your thoughts! Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on one green thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’d like to blog about it.