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Romm writes: "New satellite data and surface observations analyzed by Harvard researchers confirm previous data and observations: U.S. methane emissions are considerably higher than the official numbers from the EPA. Significantly, the EPA numbers are mostly based on industry-provided estimates, not actual measurements."

Fracking site. (photo: Eric Gay/AP)
Fracking site. (photo: Eric Gay/AP)

Methane Leaks Erase Climate Benefit of Fracked Gas, Countless Studies Find

By Joe Romm, ThinkProgress

18 February 16


racking is not good for the climate. Or, to put it a tad more scientifically, “By The Time Natural Gas Has A Net Climate Benefit You’ll Likely Be Dead And The Climate Ruined,” as I wrote two years ago.

New satellite data and surface observations analyzed by Harvard researchers confirm previous data and observations: U.S. methane emissions are considerably higher than the official numbers from the EPA. Significantly, the EPA numbers are mostly based on industry-provided estimates, not actual measurements.

While this new study doesn’t attribute a specific source to the remarkable 30 percent increase in U.S. methane emissions from 2002–2014, many other studies have identified the source of those emissions as leakage of methane from the natural gas production and delivery system.

The central problem for the climate is that natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), a super-potent greenhouse gas, which traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period. That’s why many studies find that even a very small leakage rate can have a large climate impact — enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas for a long, long time.

Even worse, other studies find — surprise, surprise — natural gas plants don’t replace only high-carbon coal plants. They often replace very low carbon power sources like solar, wind, nuclear, and even energy efficiency. That means even a very low leakage rate wipes out the climate benefit of fracking.

Indeed, researchers confirmed in 2014 that — even if methane leakage were zero percent — “increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.” Exactly. In fact, a study just last month found that natural gas and renewables are competing directly with each other to replace coal plants in this country.

All of these findings taken together vindicate the concerns of high leakage rates raised by Cornell professors Howarth, Santoro and Ingraffea, which I reported on back in 2011. Howarth told Climate Central this week that the increase in methane emissions “almost certainly must be coming from the fracking and from the increase in use of natural gas.” Howarth notes that even with deep CO2 cuts, we’re headed toward dangerous 2°C warming by mid-century.

“But the planet responds much more rapidly to methane, so a reduction in methane emissions now would slow the rate of global warming immediately,” he said.

The good news is that renewables are ready to handle the job of running a modern economy, so we don’t need to rely on natural gas as a “bridge” to a carbon-free future. The bad news is that many people still tout the supposed climate benefits of the fracking revolution — despite a paucity of observations and analysis to support that view and a plethora of data and research undermining it.

So let me end this post by linking to a number of the umpteen studies that undermine the climate case for fracked gas:

  • IEA’s (2011) “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change

  • Study (2011): Switching From Coal to Gas Increases Warming for Decades, Has Minimal Benefit Even in 2100

  • Study (2012): High Methane Emissions Measured Over Gas Field “May Offset Climate Benefits of Natural Gas”

  • Study (2012): You Can’t Slow Projected Warming With Gas, You Need ‘Rapid and Massive Deployment’ of Zero-Carbon Power

  • Study (2012): Natural Gas Is A Bridge To Nowhere Absent A Carbon Price AND Strong Standards To Reduce Methane Leakage

  • NOAA study (2013) Confirms High Methane Leakage Rate Up To 9% From Gas Fields, Gutting Climate Benefit

  • Study (2013) Projects No Long-Term Climate Benefit From Shale Gas Revolution (based on work of 14 different modeling teams)

  • Study (2013) Finds Methane Leakage From Gas Fields High Enough To Gut Climate Benefit

  • Study (2013) Finds Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production Far Higher Than EPA Estimates

  • “A review [2014] of more than 200 earlier studies confirms that U.S. emissions of methane are considerably higher than official estimates. Leaks from the nation’s natural gas system are an important part of the problem.”

  • Study (2014): Up To 1,000 Times More Methane Released At Gas Wells Than EPA Estimates

  • Study (2014): Expanded Natural Gas Use Worsens Climate Change

  • NASA (2014): “U.S. Methane ‘Hot Spot’ (over 3 times) Bigger than Expected”

  • Satellite Observations (2014) Confirm Methane Leaks Wipe Out Any Climate Benefit Of Fracking

  • 10 Studies (2015) find methane leakage from major fracking region much higher than EPA estimates

Bottom Line: Wishful thinking and industry estimates do not actually make fracked gas a good climate strategy. your social media marketing partner


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+9 # intheEPZ 2016-02-18 10:28
Similarly with radioactive effluents from nuclear power reactors. Routine nuke releases are estimated and reported by the industry to the toothless NRC, with no actual independent measuring or monitoring. Then they express surprise when they find massive amounts of tritium and it's usual nastier radioactive companions in the groundwater. Where'd that come from? Connect the bloody dots.
+9 # intheEPZ 2016-02-18 10:37
P.S. The uranium enrichment process releases over 95% of the ozone-depleting CFC's released to the atmosphere. Domestic use of CFC's were banned in the 1987 Montreal Protocol. Uranium enrichment, by far the largest source, was, of course, exempted.
+4 # Questions, questions 2016-02-18 18:18
Not to mention that uranium enrichment is VERY energy-intensiv e - it's the main reason nuclear "lifetime" carbon emissions are estimated to be 5 to 7 times more than an equivalent amount of wind power. Coincidentally, most first gen. enrichment facilities as well as other Manhattan Project infrastructure was sited in coal country - KY, TN, So. OH.

So much for nukes being a "clean energy" alternative!
+4 # ahollman 2016-02-18 11:00
In the long-term, we have only 4 sources of energy on-planet: sunlight and a bit of other radiation from outerspace, volcanic heat, radioactive decay in the earth's crust, and tidal energy from the moon's fluctuating pull. All other sources, including wind, are either temporary (e.g. all fossil fuels from a finite stock of decaded organic matter) or derived from these sources (e.g. wind).

The good news is that with sufficient time and effort, we can utilize these to provide a reasonably comfortable existence for most of humanity.

The bad news is that the short term in which we have to act to avoid catastrophic consequences is getting shorter and shorter, we seem to lack the collective political will to take the necessary steps, these lower-density energy sources will not allow the vast industrial and transportation infrastructure we currently have (much less the kind of high-energy existence that the world's most prosperous billion currently enjoys), and there's a significant chance that they will not allow as large a human population as we currently have (much less one that is larger).

If that sounds pessimistic, there's still hope. Some of the same characteristics that have allowed us to make such a mess of things can also allow us to fix things. Our brains and ingenuity, our ability to alter our environment, our ability to cooperate, our ability to make and use tools, and to envision a different future can be our salvation as well as our curse.
+5 # Elroys 2016-02-18 11:02
Methane = money, money wins, humanity / life loses. Facts don't matter - money and those in control of that resource (money /methane / oil) is what seems to matter and almost always wins.

The only antidote to all this is for massive numbers of U.S. citizens to stand up and vote, and vote for those candidates that represent human / life values. Not to be partisan, but in this case reality is that either Bernie or Hillary are lightyears ahead and of those running for the Repub nomination.

Meaning, if you vote for any of the current Repubs running for President, you are voting for the death of birth; voting for the end of life as we know it. Climate deniers all, they are owned by the methane / old energy money - a la Koch Brothers. Sorry, but there simply are many people who choose ignorance over knowledge, personal belief and dumb slogans over truth and wisdom.

This coming election is truly a life and death event.
+8 # Nell H 2016-02-18 11:10
Republican ideology states that there is no problem with the climate. Can you think of a better reason to vote them ALL out?
-6 # MidwestTom 2016-02-18 11:22
Remember that water vapor is by far the largest heat retention gas.
+4 # Farafalla 2016-02-18 17:03
Water vapor is present in the atmosphere at different degrees of concentration. It helps provide the greenhouse effect that makes the planet livable. CO2 and CH4 and CFCs are there because we put them there. They are more heat trapping than H2O. CFCs are thousands of times more heat trapping than CO2. CO2 is the most abundant of the GHGs released into the atmosphere by humans.

I still think trolls should pay to post.
+4 # Dust 2016-02-18 17:15
So what are you implying? You are TRYING to imply that because water vapor is "by far the largest heat retention gas", nothing else really matters, including methane and CO2: a disingenuous sleight-of-hand (not to mention also either dishonest or plain wrong).

Now - by "by far the largest heat retention gas", you mean that, while traps relatively small amounts of heat per molecule, the vast amount present makes it a significant player? Or that there's really not much there but it is very efficient at trapping heat? Define your terms.

Finally - I have your supper here for you. It's a very nice stew with only the tiniest bit of cyanide included. Remember when you eat it that water is by far the largest ingredient in it.
+5 # Kanook 2016-02-18 13:35
Unfortunately the science hating Republicans keep right on burying their fracking heads in the sand.
+5 # Kanook 2016-02-18 13:41
The ancient inhabitants of Venus voted Republican once too often and look what happened to them!
+1 # Patriot 2016-02-18 15:16
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+1 # PABLO DIABLO 2016-02-18 19:35
YEAH, but don't forget those under-inflated footballs. They saved some greenhouse effects. Neither the Democrats, nor the Republicans have mentioned "climate change" in the debates. Whose side are they on. At least Bernie doesn't take oil money. Is there anyone else?

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