The Future of Natural Gas

Published Jun 19, 2014 Updated May 9, 2023

Natural gas is not an effective long-term climate strategy.

In recent decades, low natural gas prices and an increase in the cost of generating electricity from coal resulted in a significant shift from coal to gas. Coal is one of the dirtiest sources of energy, so a short-term shift to gas carried some comparative benefits. However, natural gas—which can also be called “gas” or “methane gas”—is erratic in price and shares many of coal’s unattractive aspects. It’s harmful to human health, dangerous to local communities, and it's a significant contributor to global warming, both when it’s burned as a fuel and when it’s leaked or released straight into the atmosphere.

Climate scientists agree that rapid and dramatic reductions in carbon emissions are needed to avert the worst effects of climate change. Simply switching to gas from coal and oil will not bring about the necessary reductions. In addition, the ongoing development and use of gas resources will continue to pose threats to the health of local communities and their surrounding environment.

In addition, swings in production alongside continued increases in gas demand for electricity and other uses—as well as diversion of large volumes for liquefied natural gas (LNG) export—could result in mismatches between supply and demand, and lead to repeated episodes of significant price volatility. Renewable energy and energy efficiency can provide an important and more affordable hedge against future gas price increases by diversifying the electricity mix away from gas [2].

Thus, while gas constitutes a large share of our current electricity mix, continuing with a gas-centered electricity pathway is full of significant economic, environmental, and public health risks. Instead, fully decarbonizing our electricity system—primarily with renewables, efficiency, and storage—is necessary to both limit the threat of climate change and mitigate the risks and harms of so-called natural gas.


[1] National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 2012. Renewable electricity futures study. NREL/TP-6A20-52409. Golden, CO.

[2] Bolinger, M. 2013. Revisiting the long-term hedge value of wind power in an era of low natural gas prices. LBNL-6103E. Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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