NREL, Johns Hopkins SAIS develop method to quantify life cycle land use of electricity from natural gas

A case study of the Barnett Shale region in Texas provides quantifiable information on the life cycle land use of generating electricity from natural gas, based on physical measurements instead of assumptions and averages that were previously used for evaluation.
Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) studied satellite images of a seven-county area, as well as data from Texas regulators on production, processing, and the transportation of natural gas in “Understanding the life cycle surface land requirements of natural gas-fired electricity.”
The research team’s expertise in life cycle assessments of energy technology production and use were instrumental in developing a methodology for land use requirements for natural gas production in the Barnett Shale region. The “cradle to grave” assessment pinpoints environmental issues and enables fair comparisons of energy technologies.
“General statements comparing the land use of energy technologies have not been verified with enough data or rigorous methods,” said Sarah Jordaan, Assistant Professor of Energy, Resources and Environment at Johns Hopkins SAIS and lead author of the paper. “Defensible comparisons really require substantial datasets that enable comprehensive statistical analyses. Our research is a step towards that.”    
Her co-authors from NREL are Garvin Heath, Jordan Macknick, Brian W. Bush, Dan Ben-Horin, and Victoria Urrea along with Danielle Marceau, a professor from the University of Calgary, and her doctoral student Ehsan Mohammadi.
Natural gas production is a multi-stage process that begins with drilling a well. Typically, the amount of gas produced during the lifetime of a well is measured as “estimated ultimate recovery,” which is challenging but critical to estimate accurately because it is the basis for normalization of the land use. From the well, natural gas travels via pipelines, or gathering lines, to a processing plant where impurities are removed. The natural gas is then transported over high-pressure pipes to the end user, in this case power plants. The researchers calculated each stage by converting the data to a unit of megawatt hour of electricity generated. Power plants required the greatest amount of land, followed by gathering lines and processing facilities.
Garvin Heath, a research co-author and senior scientist in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at NREL, commented on one of several new insights from this research. “We were successful in developing a method that’s not only applicable to the Barnett Shale, but it can be repeated to look at other gas production areas and their associated life cycle of gas produced,” he said. “Furthermore, the conceptual approach can be applied to any other non-renewable generation source, like coal or nuclear, which would represent a big improvement over methods and results available to-date.”
The research was funded by the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy with additional support from the Electric Power Research Institute. The findings of the study have been published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Energy.
Media Contacts
Wayne Hicks
Public Affairs Specialist
Stacy A. Anderson
Communications Manager
Johns Hopkins SAIS
202.663.5620 office
202.853.7983 mobile
About Johns Hopkins SAIS
A division of Johns Hopkins University, the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is a global institution that offers students an international perspective on today’s critical issues. For nearly 75 years, Johns Hopkins SAIS has produced great leaders, thinkers, and practitioners of international relations. Public leaders and private sector executives alike seek the counsel of the faculty, whose ideas and research inform and shape policy. Johns Hopkins SAIS offers a global perspective across three campus locations: Bologna, Italy; Nanjing, China; and Washington, D.C. The school’s interdisciplinary curriculum is strongly rooted in the study of international economics, international relations, and regional studies, preparing students to address multifaceted challenges in the world today.
For more information, visit or @SAISHopkins

Monday, October 2, 2017