The “bridge” that fracking is built upon is collapsing


Thanksgiving is never a week to release important news — but I want to make sure that people see this story, because it is important indeed. There’s a major new report out that undercuts some other recent research on a critical topic: Whether leaking methane gas from the fracking process for natural gas is becoming a greenhouse-gas disaster. If significant amounts of methane are escaping into the atmosphere, and thus increasing the likelihood of a warming planet, then the argument that the natural gas from fracking is a major upgrade is significantly undercut.

The new research does exactly that:

Fifteen scientists from some of the leading institutions in the world — including Harvard, NOAA and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab — have published a seminal study, “Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States.” Crucially, it is based on “comprehensive atmospheric methane observations, extensive spatial datasets, and a high-resolution atmospheric transport model,” rather than the industry-provided numbers EPA uses.

If you’ve been paying attention, you won’t be shocked to learn that the EPA’s work was biased toward industry:

The study found greenhouse gas emissions from “fossil fuel extraction and processing (i.e., oil and/or natural gas) are likely a factor of two or greater than cited in existing studies.” In particular, they concluded, “regional methane emissions due to fossil fuel extraction and processing could be 4.9 ± 2.6 times larger than in EDGAR, the most comprehensive global methane inventory.”

This suggests the methane leakage rate from natural gas production, which EPA recently decreased to about 1.5%, is in fact 3% or higher.

And, as Think Progress notes, other studies have suggest that the methane leakage rate is at least that bad, or worse:

 Another 2013 study from 19 researchers led by NOAA concluded “measurements show that on one February day in the Uinta Basin, the natural gas field leaked 6 to 12 percent of the methane produced, on average, on February days.” The Uinta Basin is of special interest because it “produces about 1 percent of total U.S. natural gas” and fracking has increased there over the past decade.

The new science of fracking and methane is fast becoming a deal-breaker. Remember, the whole reason for environmentalists to consider supporting this method of extraction — despite the massive use of water, reports of groundwater contamination and growing evidence that fracking causes earthquakes — is that natural gas burns cleaner than the fuels that it’s replacing, especially coal. That would reduce both traditional air pollution as well as greenhouse gases, which are an increasing threat to the quality of life on this planet. But if greenhouse gases are actually getting worse, then a) the other environmental miseries of fracking aren’t worth it and b) we can’t take a chance on heating up the planet.

For more in the new science of methane and fracking, please read:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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