The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

You are here



Environmental Benefits

Reference Number: MTAS-819
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: September 19, 2017
Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF Version

Natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels. Composed primarily of methane, the main products of the combustion of natural gas are carbon dioxide and water vapor, the same compounds we exhale when we breathe. Coal and oil are composed of much more complex molecules, with a higher carbon ratio and higher nitrogen and sulfur contents. This means that when combusted, coal and oil release higher levels of harmful emissions, including a higher ratio of carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. Coal and fuel oil also release ash particles into the environment, substances that do not burn but instead are carried into the atmosphere and contribute to pollution. The combustion of natural gas, on the other hand, releases very small amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, virtually no ash and lower levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other reactive hydrocarbons. The chart below is based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s data and shows fossil fuel emission levels for 2010.

 

Pounds per Billion Btu of Energy Input
Pollutant
Natural Gas
Oil
Coal
Carbon Dioxide
117,000
164,000
208,000
Carbon Monoxide
40
33
208
Nitrogen Oxides
92
448
457
Sulfur Dioxide
1
1,122
2,591
Particulates
7
84
2,744
Mercury
0.000
0.007
0.016

 

Pollutants emitted in the United States, particularly from the combustion of fossil fuels, have led to the development of many pressing environmental problems. Natural gas, emitting fewer harmful chemicals into the atmosphere than other fossil fuels, can help to mitigate some of these environmental issues. These issues include greenhouse gas emissions, smog, air quality and acid rain, industrial and electric generation emissions and pollution from natural gas vehicles.

Responsible: