Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Michael Hannigan

Second Advisor

Jana Milford

Third Advisor

Gregory Brinkman

Abstract

The recent increase in U.S. natural gas production made possible through advancements in extraction techniques including hydraulic fracturing has transformed the U.S. energy supply landscape while raising questions regarding the balance of environmental impacts associated with natural gas production and use. Impact areas at issue include emissions of methane and criteria pollutants from natural gas production, alongside changes in emissions from increased use of natural gas in place of coal for electricity generation. In the Rocky Mountain region, these impact areas have been subject to additional scrutiny due to the high level of regional oil and gas production activity and concerns over its links to air quality. Here, the MARKAL (MArket ALlocation) least-cost energy system optimization model in conjunction with the EPA-MARKAL nine-region database has been used to characterize future regional and national emissions of CO2, CH4, VOC, and NOx attributed to natural gas production and use in several sectors of the economy. The analysis is informed by comparing and contrasting a base case, business-as-usual scenario with scenarios featuring variations in future natural gas supply characteristics, constraints affecting the electricity generation mix, carbon emission reduction strategies and increased demand for natural gas in the transportation sector. Emission trends and their associated sensitivities are identified and contrasted between the Rocky Mountain region and the U.S. as a whole. The modeling results of this study illustrate the resilience of the short term greenhouse gas emission benefits associated with fuel switching from coal to gas in the electric sector, but also call attention to the long term implications of increasing natural gas production and use for emissions of methane and VOCs, especially in the Rocky Mountain region. This analysis can help to inform the broader discussion of the potential environmental impacts of future natural gas production and use by illustrating links between relevant economic and environmental variables.

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