Sales of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe have been increasing rapidly in recent years. Low prices have contributed to this growth. In the liberal European market, price is king when choosing a natural gas supplier.
The end consumer does not notice if their natural gas comes from Russia, the United States or Australia. In practice, it does matter, but not because of the price. European politicians have been stepping up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Their targets for GHG emissions reduction should be applied when evaluating a natural gas supplier.
A new study was published in October that sheds a light on the environmental footprint of natural gas supply from pipeline gas and LNG. Sphera, a company with roots in the United States, conducted a lifecycle assessment to compare the different routes, including TurkStream and various LNG alternatives. TurkStream is a newly developed pipeline system with a capacity to bring 31.5 billion cubic metres of gas from Russia to Turkey and countries in South-East Europe.
Analysis of natural gas supply chains
In addition to TurkStream, Sphera compared natural gas supply chains from Russia via Ukraine and LNG imports from Algeria, Australia, Qatar and the United States. The analysis includes the whole supply chain, from the production and processing of natural gas (including wells’ drilling) in the producing countries, transport via long-distance pipeline or LNG importation (including liquefaction, LNG carrier transport and regasification) up to the transmission and storage at high pressure and local distribution of natural gas to the consumer in South-East Europe and Turkey.
The calculated global warming potential for natural gas supply from Russia via the TurkStream pipeline to South-East Europe and Turkey is 10.4 gram CO2-eq per megajoule of natural gas supplied to the consumer. Main contributors to this amount include the pipeline transport from the Russian production fields to South-East Europe and Turkey (56 per cent), followed by the production and processing (19 per cent), transmission (15 per cent) and distribution (10 per cent) in South-East Europe and Turkey.
The difference with LNG supply is striking: LNG imports generate between 61 per cent and 176 per cent more GHG emissions than the supply from Russia via the TurkStream pipeline. These higher emissions are a result of energy-intensive liquefaction (including purification) and LNG carrier transport.
In the case of Algeria, Australia (Queensland) and the United States, high fugitive emissions occur in production and processing. As a result, there are potential savings of between 19 and 48 million tons CO2-eq per year for South-East Europe and Turkey if natural gas from Russia via the TurkStream pipeline is used instead of natural gas via LNG imports.
There is also a difference between natural gas supplied by pipeline via Ukraine Russian and TurkStream. The global warming potential for natural gas transported via Ukraine is one third higher than that supplied from Russia via the TurkStream pipeline.
The reason for the difference between these two routes is the long-distance pipeline transportation and design and age of the transport systems. The pressure in offshore pipelines is higher than in onshore pipelines, which reduces the amount of compressor stations needed and reduces potential fugitive emissions.
In addition to the global warming potential, Sphera analysed other environmental impacts. These impacts include acidification, eutrophication, photochemical ozone formation, respiratory inorganics, ionising radiation, cancer and non-cancer human health effects, freshwater ecotoxicity and water scarcity.
The results have been normalised and weighted to reveal that natural gas supply via pipeline achieves a very good overall environmental performance compared to the other natural gas supply chains to South-East Europe and Turkey.
European politicians and bureaucrats are right to value the environmental performance of fuel. It is important to realise that natural gas molecules from LNG have a significantly higher environmental footprint compared to pipeline gas from Russia, mainly due to the process of liquefaction. A lifecycle assessment can play an important role in choosing a natural gas supplier. Since Europe takes reducing GHG emissions seriously, pipeline gas should be the option of choice.