Latest study claims that switching from coal to natural gas may not lower greenhouse gas emission.

Most of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants, which produces a large amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, the chief greenhouse gas that pollutes the atmosphere of Earth.

Many environment advocates believe that gas-fired power stations may be an alternative for coal-fired power stations, which will reduce greenhouse gas emission. However, a team of researchers at the Stanford University, Near Zero (a non-profit organization) and the University of California (UC), Irvine, suggest that this switch may not significantly reduce greenhouse gas emission.

The authors of the study reveal that coal-powered electricity stations currently generate about 40 percent of the electricity consumed in the U.S. The country's Environmental Protection Agency has put forward rules which rely greatly on the replacement of coal to natural gas that will help in the reduction of carbon emissions by the year 2030.

Natural gas-fired power plants are believed to emit about 60 percent less CO2 when compared to coal-fired plants. The research team also points out that gas usage has increased with the arrival of hydraulic fracturing technology. The increase in the usage of gas will not cut down on the emission of greenhouse gas as it will also increase electricity consumption and will slow down the usage of low-carbon electricity sources from the sun and wind.

Christine Shearer, the lead author of the study, highlighted that natural gas, which is primarily made of methane, leaks from pipelines and wells. Even if there is no leak, natural gas usage will still not help to reduce carbon emission.

Shearer also says that based on their study, a pricing strategy or a cap on carbon emissions may help to clean the atmosphere.

The authors of the study believe that the researchers found high usage of natural gas may in fact increase cumulative emissions by 5 percent from 2013 to 2055 and may also reduce them by 9 percent.

"Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies," says Steven Davis, assistant professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, who is also the principal investigator of the study. "It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether."

The study has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. 

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