Emissions From Fracking 5 Times Higher Than Reported

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Natural gas is not a “bridge fuel to the future.” It is a death sentence for humanity. Think that is too strong? Think again. A new study by the Environmental Defense Fund finds that methane escaping from fracking operations in Pennsylvania “causes the same near term climate pollution as 11 coal fired power plants” and is “five times higher than what oil and gas companies report” to the state. A previous assessment by EDF last November found methane emissions escaping from oil and gas wells in New Mexico are “equivalent to the climate impact of approximately 12 coal fired power plants.”

fracking wellIn its executive summary of the study, the EDF says, “The analysis — based on peer-reviewed research and emissions data collected at Pennsylvania well sites — examines both the total amount of methane and volatile organic compounds emitted from oil and gas sites. These pollutants increase global warming and are hazardous to human health.” Several interactive maps and more information about the data collection procedures and analysis used by EDF are available on its website.

Methane is the primary component of what is popularly known as “natural gas.” It is a powerful greenhouse gas which traps 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a 20 year period, according to Think Progress. The amount of methane in the earth’s atmosphere has increased dramatically since 2006. A recent NASA review determined that the majority of that increase is attributable to oil and gas extraction.

Fracking has been around a long time, but did not become popular until it was combined with a relatively new technique known as horizontal drilling in the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of natural gas wells in the United States doubled, thanks in large part to fracking and horizontal drilling, according to Live Science. Is it a coincidence that a dramatic increase in atmospheric methane occurred contemporaneously with a sharp rise in fracking? You decide.

Fracking has become a matter of national pride for the United States. For the first time, it is now one of the largest producers of oil and gas in the world. OPEC never imagined back in the 1970s that America would one day out-produce its member states. Russia, another major supplier of oil and gas, is also none too pleased about the US selling more fossil fuels than it does. America’s new role as a major supplier could create geo-political tensions with global implications. Fights over access to the Arctic as sea ice melts now seem inevitable.

Be careful what you wish for, America. Giving Donald Trump another reason to beat his breast and crow about what a great country America is, or was, or might be is no reason to celebrate if it means poisoning the entire planet. Fracking is nothing less than a loaded gun pointed straight at the head of every man, woman, and child alive.

Not only does it put as many pollutants into the air as coal fired generating plants, it impedes the progress of renewable energy sources under the guise of being a “bridge fuel to the future.” According to a 2014 study, “increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US greenhouse gas emissions and, by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.” To be clear, a world that relies on fracking has no future.

The Trump administration is moving aggressively to roll back Obama-era regulations that require a dramatic decrease in methane emissions. As usual, the refrain from Scott Pruitt and the rest of the anti-environment cabal that swept into power on the coattails of Donald Trump is that the rules are too burdensome on industry and will cost too much money. The obverse of that argument is that the health of American citizens and the ability of the environment to sustain human life have a lesser value than the profits of fossil fuel companies. Why anyone would vote for a jabbering baboon who promotes such ideas is a mystery that deserves further study.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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