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Study Gives Fracking Green Bill of Health


We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: shale gas is fracking green. A new study confirms that natural gas helps decrease greenhouse gas emissions by displacing the much dirtier and more carbon intensive coal.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, and it pokes a hole in one of the last gripes greens have about the American shale boom. Prominent greens like Bill McKibben and the misleading documentary filmmaker Josh Fox have criticized fracking for leaking the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, nullifying the fact that burning natural gas emits roughly half the carbon that burning coal does.

Michael Levi, the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, has long been skeptical of that claim, poking holes in the methodologies of studies purporting to demonstrate it. “The available evidence points strongly to the conclusion that methane leaks aren’t coming close to making gas as bad for climate change as coal is”, he says.

The UT researchers have all but delivered these methane allegations a death blow by going out and actually measuring methane emissions at drilling sites rather than relying on estimates and extrapolations. The WSJ reports:

Measuring emissions at 190 sites, the study found less “fugitive methane” than previous work by the Environmental Protection Agency and some university researchers, which relied on estimates. Methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas. […]

[T]he measurements of gas emissions found that wells emitted about 20% less greenhouse gases than the EPA had estimated—which is less than the amount emitted by burning coal.

We won’t be holding our breath waiting for a green about-face on shale gas, but if environmentalists were actually concerned about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and breathing cleaner air, they would be all over the fracking bandwagon. The world isn’t ready to transition to 100 percent renewables; the technology just isn’t there yet. Natural gas may be a fossil fuel, but it’s the cleanest viable option at the moment. But today’s green movement would rather fail at attaining an unattainable dream than succeed by compromising.

[Oil rig image and plant image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • f1b0nacc1

    Wait, you mean ‘models and estimates’ aren’t a substitute for actually MEASURING the phenomenon in question? It is almost as if you are suggesting that environmentalists should actually know something about what they are talking about, rather than just hand waving and cooking numbers to make their case….
    Nah, that is just crazy talk….

  • Corlyss

    “Monday 16 September 2013 / Hour 2, Block C: Robert Zimmerman,, in re: A newly leaked revised draft of the upcoming IPCC report suggests that the climate uncertainties have significantly grown since the last report in 2007. Most important of all, the new IPCC draft finally admits that the climate has not warmed as predicted and that the climate field does not know why. They recognize the global warming ‘pause’ first reported by The Mail on Sunday last year is real – and concede that their computer models did not predict it. But they cannot explain why world average temperatures have not shown any statistically significant increase since 1997. They admit large parts of the world were as warm as they are now for decades at a time between 950 and 1250 AD – centuries before the Industrial Revolution, and when the population and CO2 levels were both much lower.

    The IPCC admits that while computer models forecast a decline in Antarctic sea ice, it has actually grown to a new record high. Again, the IPCC cannot say why. A forecast in the 2007 report that hurricanes would become more intense has simply been dropped, without mention. This year has been one of the quietest hurricane seasons in history and the US is currently enjoying its longest-ever period – almost eight years – without a single hurricane of Category 3 or above making landfall.

    The worst aspect of this new draft, however, is how its conclusions completely ignore these admitted uncertainties. In the new report, the IPCC says it is ‘extremely likely’ – 95 per cent certain – that human influence caused more than half the temperature rises from 1951 to 2010, up from ‘very confident’ – 90 per cent certain – in 2007. [Climate scientists Judith] Curry said: ‘This is incomprehensible to me’ – adding that the IPCC projections are ‘overconfident’, especially given the report’s admitted areas of doubt.

    As I’ve noted before, though Curry favors the theory that the climate is warming, she is also a good scientist willing to honestly discuss the uncertainties of the science. One last point: Most of these newly admitted uncertainties in the upcoming IPCC report were originally discussed in detail in the first IPCC report back in 1990. That 1990 report was an excellent and fair assessment of the overall knowledge of the field, at the time. Since then, none of the science has really been able to reduce any of these uncertainties significantly. All that happened in the ensuing years is that too many climate scientists and in the IPCC decided to make believe the uncertainties didn’t exist any more. Thus, later IPCC reports were filled with false certainty and an unreasonable insistence that the climate field understood what was going on. These false certainties have now come back to bite that climate field, in the posterior.”

    From John Batchelor’s site, with podcast if you care to hear it.

    I’ve long said the climate nonsense was magical thinking from secularists who need some kind of religion that makes them sound smart and sexy and caring about humanity when all it was was another plain vanilla power play by a fringe faction that used to be called “Marxists.” The latter have always been about enslaving humanity so humanity would have no pesky choice other than to follow where the enslavers lead it.

  • Clayton Holbrook

    The study showed that the EPA over-estimates methane leakage from a new well that is being prepared to produce for the first time. But also found was that the EPA under-estimates methane emissions from wells under production.

    The 190 sites volunteered by companies for this study may not be completely representative of what is more widely happening. What this study shows is perhaps the best case scenario for what the industry can accomplish in regards reducing methane emissions.

    A different study conducted by NOAA may represent a worst case scenario in that it’s estimated methane emissions much higher than this UT study. This study didn’t focus on individual equipment or specific practices, but took the aggregate methane for an entire region of a Utah basin with heavy gas production.

    In western gas fields companies practices may differ as they aren’t being as closing watched. More study maybe needed to rectify the discrepancies between the two studies. And a key take away from this UT study is methane emissions reduction is highly dependent upon best practices and emission reduction technology implementation from industry.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “We won’t be holding our breath waiting for a green about-face on shale gas, but if environmentalists were actually concerned about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and breathing cleaner air, they would be all over the fracking bandwagon.”

    If the environmentalists were actually concerned about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and breathing cleaner air, they would be all over the Nuclear Power bandwagon which emits NO greenhouse gas.

    From these two facts we can conclude that environmentalists aren’t concerned about the environment, but about having an urgent worldwide threat that will generate grant and donation money, as well as political power and the money that comes with it.

    It’s all about the money!

  • stevewfromford

    The amount of CO2 emitted by any fuel source looks increasingly irrelevant as the AGW debate speeds towards it’s sorry end. It is now almost certain that “greenhouse” gas emissions have very little effect upon climate or future temperatures which means that the most economical source of energy is, once again, the best source of energy.
    Kill those awful windmills before their hideously expensive and short lived hulks blight more of the countryside.

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