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]