“Clean Burning Natural Gas” For Mexico?
In recent conversations with journalists, and published in various media outlets, the topic of “Clean Burning Natural Gas” for Mexico has often arisen.
The consortium proposing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project, suggests in various outlets, that the project represents an environmental benefit:
“[The Trans-Pecos Pipeline] Will benefit air quality in the region by replacing Northern Mexico’s fuel source with clean-burning natural gas. Northern Mexico’s power generation plants currently produce harmful greenhouse gases from burning diesel, coal and wood.”
Let’s take an opportunity to analyze, and debunk this, and similar statements and misconceptions.
This graph, from the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (“CFE”), shows the relative percentages of fuels used for generating electricity in Mexico:
Fossil-fuel, non-renewable sources include Natural Gas (47%), Fuel Oil (21%), and Coal (4%).
Mexico’s coal-burning facilities, Carbon I, Carbon II (northern Mexico), and Carbon III (South Central Mexico) include:
• Jose Lopez Portillo (Carbon I, Rio Escondido) Coal Power Station is located at Nava, Coahuila, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 28.486194675435, Longitude= -100.69278717041. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 1200 MWe. It has 4 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1982 and the last in 1982. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
• Carbon II Coal Power Station Mexico is located at Nava, Coahuila. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 28.46250406485, Longitude= -100.69398880005. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 1400 MWe. It has 4 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1993 and the last in 1993. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
• Plutarco Elias Calles (Petacalco) (Carbon III) Thermal Power Plant Mexico is located at La Union, Guerrero, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 17.982570118573, Longitude= -102.11603164673. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 2100 MWe. It has 6 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1993 and the last in 1993. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
Mexico’s coal-fired generating units account for approximately 4% of the total generating capacity. They are all undergoing expansion of the coal bunkering (storage) facilities, expansion and modernization of their generating systems, and to date, the CFE has made no statement, or telegraphed in any way that Carbon I, III, or III would be, or are planned for decommissioning or reduction in operation as a consequence of expansion of the natural gas infrastructure.
Mexico’s waste (Renewables) generating facility is currently limited to a single unit, which burns pelletized agricultural and wood product waste:
• Golfo/Penoles Thermal Power Plant Mexico is located at 10 km NW of Tamuin, San Luis Potasi, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 22.069096135144, Longitude= -98.846654891968. This infrastructure is of TYPE Waste Power Plant with a design capacity of 520 MWe. It has 2 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 2004 and the last in 2004. It is operated by Termoelectrica del Golfo (TEG) and Termoelectrica Penoles (TEP).
One of the more misleading statements made by the consortium suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s generating capability is derived from burning “wood” – this is specious, at best. In reality, the Golfo/Penoes facility is a renewable energy project, which uses pelletized agricultural waste, including fiber, wood waste, and similar sources, in a controlled-combustion process that generates low emissions.
While it is true that in rural Mexico, individual energy consumers burn wood in cook-stoves, and for heating purposes, it is not true that natural gas will replace, reduce, or otherwise augment the use of wood – the infrastructure cost to deliver end-consumer natural gas is significant, and there are substantial barriers, including terrain, economic, and capital, precluding use of natural gas for this purpose.
So far, the evidence is incontrovertible – the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline project delivers no benefit environmentally, as it does not eliminate, reduce, or make a substantial impact on the use of coal-fired sources of generation, and the claim with respect to use of “wood” is deliberately misleading, and entirely false.
There are numerous (twenty-two) oil-fired generating units depicted here, all of which are in current service:
This map depicts Mexico’s combined-cycle, natural gas fired generating units:
We know from CFE resources that Mexico plans to convert seven oil-fired systems to combined-cycle, natural gas-fired units, and add five new combined-cycle generation plants.
There are twenty-two (22) oil-fired generation systems, and based on the CFE’s published plans, that total reduces from twenty-two to fifteen (15) after the completion (in a decade) of the conversion projects. That leaves the remaining fifteen oil-fired units in operation. This is a rough reduction of 30% in the oil-fired segment – recall that represents only 21% of Mexico’s current total generating capacity – reducing that fraction from 21% to about 15% of the total generating capacity, in about a decade.
With respect to oil-fired (which includes the misleading use of the term “diesel”) generating capacity, it is clear that the impact of additional natural gas capability is relatively small – a reduction of 30% of the nominal 21% component of Mexico’s generating capacity.
Summarizing to this point, we see that the consortium’s claims are at best wholly specious – with no net reduction in the use of coal, and no significant reduction in the use of fuel-oil generation systems, and discounting the consortium’s wholly false claims with respect to use of wood-fueled systems, the use of natural gas is making no significant contribution to improving air, or environmental quality in Mexico, or the neighboring United States.
Now consider the following:
- natural gas, or methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas some 20X (by conservative estimates) to 84X (by most estimates) more potent than CO2
- fugitive emissions of methane at all stages, from exploration and recovery (drilling), treatment, transmission, and distribution are significant: “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than 6 million metric tons of fugitive methane leaked from natural gas systems in 2011. Measured as CO2-equivalent over a 100 year time horizon, that’s more greenhouse gases than were emitted by all U.S. iron and steel, cement, and aluminum manufacturing facilities combined.”
- The addition of five new combined-cycle generation plants is additive to the CO2 contribution to the overall emissions load associated with Mexico’s electrical generating infrastructure, and has an associated, direct fugitive methane emissions component
The consortium’s claims fly in the face of this evidence, and logic – there is no environmental benefit associated with this project, either for Mexico, or for the United States – in terms of air quality, and many other significant environmental impacts, in large part the United States bears significant environmental harm. As we are the source of the exported natural gas, the U.S. must absorb the greenhouse gas impacts of fugitive methane emissions associated with exploration, production, and transmission, as well as environmental harm from contamination of groundwater, the impact of groundwater consumption associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and toxic emissions associated with flaring, processing, and transmission.
Before buying into the consortium’s claims that “[The Trans-Pecos Pipeline] Will benefit air quality in the region by replacing Northern Mexico’s fuel source with clean-burning natural gas. Northern Mexico’s power generation plants currently produce harmful greenhouse gases from burning diesel, coal and wood.”, consult the freely available resources here, and verify the facts for yourself: