A new study shows that gas stoves leak methane and nitrogen dioxide in quantities significant enough to harm both people and planet, even when they’re turned off, bringing into focus important issues with expanding America’s natural gas delivery system.
“Even when they are not running, U.S. gas stoves are putting out an amount of methane equivalent to 2.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year,” CBC reports, citing a California study. “That’s equivalent to the annual amount of greenhouse gases from 500,000 cars, or what the United States puts into the air every 3.5 hours.”
That methane is on top of the 6.2 million tonnes of CO2 the stoves emit when they’re in use and the gas is burned, the study said.
The findings add to an ongoing debate on banning gas-fuelled appliances in new buildings. Senior author Rob Jackson of Stanford University told Bloomberg Green that eliminating gas service in new homes makes sense, “otherwise we’re locking in greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come.”
The study gauged methane levels in 53 home kitchens in California by measuring emissions captured after sealing off the rooms with plastic sheeting. The results found leakage in all stoves, old and new, with 76% of the total emissions occurring while the stoves were not being used. When they’re switched on, pollutant levels can exceed federal guidelines because of poor ventilation from hoods that are missing, broken, or disabled, Bloomberg says.
Despite the research, gas industry proponents maintain their fuel is still a better choice than coal.
“People can already choose electric appliances if they want,” Frank Maisano, a Washington policy and public relations expert who represents gas and appliance interests, told CBC.
“People just like gas appliances because they perform better, especially in colder climates. Natural gas appliances are generally more energy- and cost-effective than their electric counterparts.”
Though gas does burn cleaner than coal, the emissions benefits of choosing the fuel are negated after factoring in the leaks found in the study, CBC says.
Leaking gas stoves also pose problems for public health, with the interior pollutants they produce linked to higher rates of asthma among children. Leakage from other fuel-burning appliances or the gas lines connecting the appliances can also contribute to deteriorating the health of homeowners, Carbon Switch writes.
Gas stoves are still included in new building designs at the expense of utility customers, reports Canary Media, by way of longstanding line extension allowance policies that are meant to increase gas access as an essential service. The extensions continue to be used in developing new natural gas infrastructure, an approach that is now outdated thanks to the increasing availability of renewable energy.
“The utility industry is spending billions of dollars on new infrastructure that isn’t needed but will still have to be paid off in the decades to come,” Canary writes. “As electrification becomes more popular and cost-effective, more customers will leave the gas system, and maintaining that system will then require even higher rates for the remaining customers who aren’t able or can’t afford to electrify.”
With that future looming, “the easiest first step in addressing this challenge is to stop expanding the gas system.”