Fracking Would Emit Large Quantities of Greenhouse Gases

"Fugitive methane" released during shale gas drilling could accelerate climate change.

Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineer, reported that fracked wells leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional natural gas wells. When water with its chemical load is forced down a well to break the shale, it flows back up and is stored in large ponds or tanks. But volumes of methane also flow back up the well at the same time and are released into the atmosphere before they can be captured for use. This giant belch of "fugitive methane" can be seen in infrared videos taken at well sites.

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You think you can keep them from fracking your land? Think again. Legally companies can secure mineral rights to extract gas from your land without your permission. You land can be "force pooled". The company can then modify the leases unilaterally, or sell them.

Energy firm uses 'land grabs' to secure fracking rights from reluct...

"The principle of it is insane," said Calvin Tillman, a former mayor of Dish, Texas, a small town north of Fort Worth where drilling has been heavy. "Not only can they take your property, but they don't have to pay you for it."

Chesapeake's use of the Texas law is among the latest examples of how the company executes what it calls a "land grab" -- an aggressive leasing strategy intended to lock up prospective drilling sites and lock out competitors.

Chesapeake has unilaterally altered or backed out of leases. And in Texas and at least three other states, it has exploited little-known laws to force owners to hand over drilling rights and sometimes forfeit profits.

Fracking controversy abounds. On the one hand in Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions? Fred Pearce says

On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.

And yet, recently, the environment movement seems to have been turning up on the wrong side of the scientific argument. We have been making claims that simply do not stand up. We are accused of being anti-science — and not without reason. A few, even close friends, have begun to compare this casual contempt for science with the tactics of climate contrarians.

... shale gas development. The conventional green position is that we should be opposed ...

Yet the voices of those with genuine environmental credentials, but who take a different view, are being drowned out by sometimes abusive and irrational argument.

... let’s look at the latest source of green angst: shale gas and the drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract it. There are probably good reasons for not developing shale gas in many places. Its extraction can pollute water and cause minor earth tremors, for instance. But at root this is an argument about carbon — a genuinely double-edged issue that needs debating. For there is a good environmental case to be made that shale gas, like nuclear energy, can be part of the solution to climate change. That case should be heard and not shouted down.

Opponents of shale gas rightly say it is a carbon-based fossil fuel. But it is a much less dangerous fossil fuel than coal. Carbon emissions from burning natural gas are roughly half those from burning coal. A switch from coal to shale gas is the main reason why, in 2011, U.S. CO2 emissions fell by almost 2 percent.

... a good argument can be made that a dash to exploit cheap shale gas and undercut this surge in coal would do more to cut carbon emissions than almost anything else.

We don’t have to be slaves to science. There is plenty of room for raising questions about ethics and priorities ...But to indulge in hysterical attacks on any new technology that does not excite our prejudices, or to accuse genuine researchers of being part of a global conspiracy, is dishonest and self-defeating.

We environmentalists should learn to be more humble about our policy prescriptions, more willing to hear competing arguments, and less keen to engage in hectoring and bullying.[emphasis mine]

On the other hand, on the ground reports of what happens to communities and families that sign away their mineral rights to gas companies are nothing but bad news.

Rules for Frackers: A primer on strategies the Gas Industry uses to...

Mortgages can be defaulted, properties can't be sold if the ground water becomes contaminated or methane leaks into the house. Just signing the lease can violate fine print on ones mortgage and be grounds for foreclosure. Promised income fails to materialize because lies were told about the amount of recoverable gas. It's one horror story after another.

So I'm not personally convinced by arguments that environmentalists aren't listening to science here.

Pearce says "Carbon emissions from burning natural gas are roughly half those from burning coal." But simply ignores the greenhouse effect of released methane over the short term and indefinitely thereafter. As long as his "science" only looks at fracking pros, and ignores the cons, he's got no right to accuse environmentalists of refusing to hear competing arguments.

If we compare removing gas from a well for 5 to 30 years, releasing methane during drilling, to the long term greenhouse effect from methane leakage from abandoned wells and increased methane migration because the shale has been permanently rendered more porous, yes we're arguing about carbon. But when we also include permanently rendering an area unusable for habitation because the groundwater's contaminated, we bring up the issue of destroying arable that should be the right of countless future generations. How does a temporary bridge fuel compare to lasting damaging to the biome? When the "science" also takes the future into account, it'll be more plausible to me.

The argument that fracked gas is greener than coal is specious. It depends upon the coal alternative staying in the ground. Instead US fracking means that gas is burned and US coal which would have been burned here is exported. So BOTH the gas and the coal get burned, and raise CO2.

US Shale Gas Drives Up Coal Exports

A report by researchers at The University of Manchester has concluded that whilst the US is burning less coal due to shale gas production, millions of tonnes of unused coal are being exported to the UK, Europe and Asia. As a result, the emissions benefits of switching fuels are overstated.

... more than half of the recent emissions reductions in the power sector may be displaced overseas by the trade in coal.

... it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate. Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source. We must seriously consider whether a so-called "golden age" would be little more than a gilded cage, locking us into a high-carbon future."

This increases global emissions as the UK, Europe and Asia are burning the coal instead.

Leakage of 9% of natural gas from production fields contradicts claims that fracked gas is a green solution to the energy crisis.

Bridge To Nowhere? NOAA Confirms High Methane Leakage Rate Up To 9%...

… the research team reported new Colorado data that support the earlier work, as well as preliminary results from a field study in the Uinta Basin of Utah suggesting even higher rates of methane leakage — an eye-popping 9% of the total production. That figure is nearly double the cumulative loss rates estimated from industry data — which are already higher in Utah than in Colorado.

Report: Fracking Creates Billions Of Gallons Of Toxic — Sometimes R...

Fracking wells in the U.S. generated 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012, according to a new report.

Those toxic chemicals are exempt from federal disclosure laws, so it’s up to each state to decide if and how the oil and gas companies should disclose the chemicals they use in their operations — which is why in many states, citizens don’t know what goes into the brew that fracking operators use to extract oil and natural gas.

The report also noted the vast quantities of water needed for fracking — from 2 million to 9 million gallons on average to frack one well. This is putting a strain on places like one South Texas county, where fracking was nearly one quarter of total water use in 2011 — and dry conditions could push that amount closer to one-third.

The dangers of this wastewater, enormous amount of water used, and the emissions like methane released by fracking operations have all prompted the Environment America’s report to recommend that states prohibit fracking. “Given the scale and severity of fracking’s myriad impacts, constructing a regulatory regime sufficient to protect the environment and public health from dirty drilling — much less enforcing such safeguards at more than 80,000 wells, plus processing and waste disposal sites across the country — seems implausible,” the report stated. Since that recommendation is unlikely to be heeded by states, the report also urged the federal government to ban fracking in national parks and forests and to close loopholes exempting fracking from environmental laws. [emphasis mine]

Duke Fracking Tests Reveal Dangers Driller’s Data Missed

EPA uses water quality tests performed by the polluters to determine public water safety.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that a group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water, it relied on tests conducted by the driller itself.

Now, independent tests from Duke University researchers have found combustible levels of methane in some of the wells, and homeowners want the EPA to re-open the case.

The previously undisclosed Duke testing illustrate the complaints of critics who say the agency is reluctant to sanction a booming industry that has pushed down energy prices for consumers, created thousands of jobs and buoyed the economy.

“I don’t understand why they would let the company that was accused of doing the wrongdoing conduct the tests,” said Shelly Perdue, who lives near the two wells in Weatherford, 60 miles (97 kilometers) west of Dallas. “It doesn’t make sense.” [emphasis mine]

Methane leaks up to 1,000 times higher than EPA estimates means that natural gas is a problem, NOT a "bridge fuel".

EPA drastically underestimates methane released at drilling sites

Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

The disparity between the researchers’ measurements and the EPA’s data illustrates the limits of the methods used by regulators, Shepson said. The EPA’s approach puts regulators at the mercy of energy companies, which control access to the wells, pipelines, processing plants and compressor stations where methane measurements should be made. [emphasis mine]

Up To 1,000 Times More Methane Released At Gas Wells Than EPA Estim...

Not only does leaking methane of more than three percent from natural gas production render the fuel no more climate-friendly than coal-fired power plants for some period of time, but it can also be a safety hazard. Leaking natural gas infrastructure can result in deadly explosions. In 2012, 244 “significant” pipeline incidents, happened in the U.S., leading to 10 fatalities and 55 injuries ... [emphasis mine]

The data is in. Fracked natural gas makes climate change worse.

... 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.

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. [paragraph order changed, emphasis mine]

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