Dirty business of natural gas drilling
It’s cleaner to burn, but natural gas is dirtier to produce than all other fossil fuels
Why are so many upset?
(Healingtalks) From Texas to Pennsylvania, a horizontal drilling process known as fracking or hydrofracking has triggered very intense and passionate opposition and protest. Why? There are several main reasons. Hydrofracking requires:
- Industrialization - Armies of trucks and thus an industrialization of otherwise rural areas
- Contamination – Water which is contaminated with as many as 600 chemicals and then injected into large acres of land
- Vast water depletion – A huge usage of local water resources. This is why horizontal hydrofracking is often referred to as “unconventional.” Rather than using about 20-80,000 gallons of water as required in conventional vertical drilling, hudrofracking uses 2 -7.8 million gallons, or 70 -300 times as much.
Obama supports “clean” natural gas extraction
In his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Obama endorsed fossil extraction and called for the vigorous opening of over 75 percent of the nation’s offshore resources. He referred to “a supply of natural gas that can last America for nearly 100 years.” This is contrary to the more recent findings of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Energy Information Agency who both predicted a supply for 20 years, assuming no exporting (as gas companies are currently planning). Obama further promised to never subject the nation to dirty energy sources. But is gas drilling really clean?
Not according to a Cornell professor
According to a study made by Robert Howarth, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University, the global warming impact of gas drilling will be greater (or dirtier) than that of coal when hydrofracking is involved
Dirtier than coal extraction
Like Obama, many people view gas drilling as ultimately cleaner than any coal extraction. This is because in the past less carbon dioxide (CO2) was released into the atmosphere. But according to Howarth, hydrofracking changes that picture significantly. The methane released can cause 105 times more global warming impacts. This is partly because the new technology of fracking requires the wells to be drilled for longer periods of time, with more venting, and producing greater water back flow that adds to methane leakage. All in all then, hydrofracking will threaten our global environment more than coal extraction.
Challenge to Howarth’s study
A team led by another Cornell professor, Lawrence M. Cathles, challenged Howarth’s findings and clamed his study was seriously flawed and politically tainted. He claimed this was supposedly because Howarth:
- Overestimates hydrofracking emissions
- Made comparisons based on heat rather than electricity generation of power
- Made calculations for inappropriately short periods of time.
Howarth responded as follows:
- Support data is overwhelming – The EPA study and 7 of 9 other studies support his data on emissions, though future estimates are difficult to make
- Heat use predominates – Only 30 percent of natural gas is used to generate electricity in the US
- Shorter time frame for analysis – Use of his decade-long time period is critically important because we need to immediately control methane to avoid a tipping point for our planet’s overall climate
Addressing energy myths
The July 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics published an article called “Debunking 10 Energy Myths.” One of the myths was our urgent need to drill. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects our energy consumption will increase by only 14 percent by 2035. The development of energy-efficient devices could lower that figure significantly. At the current pace of development, alternative and renewable technologies will also become competitive long before 2035.
So why the rush to drill in such potentially dirty and dangerous ways and for the very last drop of fossil fuels?
Politics tells the story.Hydrofracking has been powerfully promote, time and again, for economic self-interest. The story entails:
- Legislative exceptions – Hydrofracking was exempted from the pollution requirements of the 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act, and under pressure from then Vice President, Dick Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton, one of the main developers of hydrofracking.
- Political contributions – Since the 1990 elections , individuals and political action committees affiliated with corporate oil and gas companies have thrown $238.7 million at Congressional candidates and political parties.
- Presidential politics – Obama himself received $884,000 from oil and gas sources in 2008.
Rush to drill
The real reasons for the rush to drill thus may come as a surprise to some idealists, but the situation is not very unusual in Washington. There is a toxic mix of money and politics that has overshadowed otherwise wiser and saner policies for the greater good.
- Wyoming groundwater polluted by hydrofracturing causing public hazard
- Stopping Environmental Pollution – The First Wave
- What’s the Most Polluted Region of Our Planet?
- Preliminary Assessment of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Natural Gas Robert W. Howarth, David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology, Cornell University
- Fracking Would Emit Large Quantities of Greehouse Gase By Mark Fischetti
- Leaked Study: Fracking Creates More Greenhouse Gases Than Coal Burning
- Fracking May Be More Harmful Than Coal
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