Cooking with gas? Maybe for not too much longer
Study finds cooktops and ovens are a major polluter.
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
Go into almost any serious cook’s kitchen and you will find a gas stove (or oven or range or whatever you call it) taking pride of place among the appliances. Chefs, both professional and amateur, prefer both the flexibility — turn up the heat and it’s instantly delivered — and stability of a gentle simmering flame (rather than the thermostat-controlled on and offs of an electric cooktop).
But along with the delicious dinners comes a major downside: Gas-burning stoves leak so much methane across the U.S. — including when the appliances are not in use — that they have the same impact on our atmosphere as half a million cars, according to a just-released Stanford University study. That’s in addition to the carbon dioxide emitted during the cooking process.
The researchers measured methane and nitrogen oxides released in 53 homes in California, not only during combustion, ignition and extinguishment, but also while the appliances were off, something they say earlier analysis had not done. Their study included 18 brands of gas cooktops and stoves ranging in age from 3 to 30 years. Surprising the scientists, they found that more than three-quarters of methane emissions occurred while stoves were off, suggesting that gas fittings and connections to the stove and in-home gas lines are responsible for most emissions, regardless of how much the stove is used.
“It’s probably the part of natural gas emissions we understand the least about, and it can have a big impact on both climate and indoor air quality,” said study lead author Eric Lebel.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine kitchen kings and queens wringing their hands as they watch their soups simmer on their pricey cookery pets. Regulators, though, are beginning to take notice, with more than 50 California cities having banned gas hookups in new construction last year and New York City nearing similar rules. In truth, most of the concerns have centered on gas used for heating, but these findings could add fuel to the fire in displacing gas appliances.