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EPA: Cows A More Serious Climate Change Threat than Shale Gas

America’s cows now have a bigger impact on climate change than the country’s burgeoning shale gas industry. That’s according to a recent EPA report assessing the current state of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The Breakthrough Institute has more:

Fugitive emissions of methane continued their decline last year, according to the latest draft Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory released annually by the EPA. Methane leakage from the natural gas system in particular has plummeted, dropping 40.4 percent between 2006 and 2012. Thanks to this progress, natural gas systems are no longer the largest emitter of methane, a position now held by enteric fermentation (methane from cattle and other livestock).

Though EPA notes that the initial expansion of hydraulic fracturing operations drove natural gas system emissions up to record levels, this trend peaked in 2006. Absolute emissions from the natural gas system in 2012 were also 16.9 percent lower than 1990 levels, while total natural gas production increased by 40 percent over the same period. [Emphasis added]

The environmental movement has long pointed to so-called “fugitive” methane emissions from natural gas extraction and transportation in their arguments against the recent shale revolution. Methane is a particular potent greenhouse gas, which means pipeline or well casing leaks can have outsized consequences for climate change. But a 2012 study of methane emissions, on which many greens based their anti-fracking arguments, had critical methodological flaws. We’re still refining our understanding of fugitive emissions, but it seems clear now that the climate dangers of shale gas were overstated. Fracking can be green.

Green opposition to fracking has been as predictable as it’s been misguided, based as it is on an overly simple premise: natural gas is a fossil fuel, so it should stay in the ground. Never mind that America’s sudden shale gas windfall has eroded coal’s share of the national energy mix and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, while Germany’s cockamamie renewables schemes have increased both its reliance on coal and its emissions.

Environmentalists have a tendency to overstate their position, to exaggerate data in order to present an apocalyptic future that can only be averted through outlandish green schemes. In so doing, they weaken their own cause, giving ammunition to their skeptics when their inevitable overreach comes back to bite them. We’ve seen it with the failure of climate models to predict the recent pause in warming, and we’re seeing it now with fugitive methane. These are both serious issues that demand serious responses, but unfortunately the “party of science” is as incapable of delivering such answers as are the warming deniers they so enjoy belittling.

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  • LivingRock

    I think it should be noted that fugitive emissions can also create hazardous environment with toxic effects to human health. This is especially so with urban drilling. Some of the Barnett Shale, particularly, lies beneath heavily populated areas. It’s not just about methane as a greenhouse gas.

    • Andrew Allison

      Fugitive emission beneath bedsheets are especially toxic! Ridicule is the only appropriate response to such nonsense. Even assuming that drilling would be permitted in urban areas, unconstrained fugitive emissions, from cows or any other source, dissipate very rapidly. That’s why they represent, in (utterly discredited) theory, a danger to the planet, as opposed to the car driver.

      • LivingRock

        Here’s a document from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)
        http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/assets/public/implementation/barnett_shale/2010.01.27-healthEffects-BarnettShale.pdf

        At two monitoring sites in one geographic area, benzene was measured above the short term, health-based comparison value…and the Toxicology Division recommends a reduction in of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions in this area.

        Here’s a link that shows a recorded image using a FLIR Infra-Red Camera to depict fugitive emissions not seen by the naked eye. Really cool technology, btw. I use it for a living.
        http://www.shaletest.org/2013/01/14/video-of-chesapeake-energy-natural-gas-facility-in-fort-worth-tx-with-tceq-report-of-benzene-exceeding-the-long-term-exposure-level/

        In the video you see the nat gas processing site is adjacent to several residences, a ball field, a playground, and with downtown Ft. Worth in the very close background. In conjunction with the video an air sample was taken that also showed elevated benzene levels compared to established health values. “Assuming that drilling would be permitted in urban areas” demonstrates a lack of knowledge regarding the nature of nat gas extraction activities in certain urban areas. One would only need to drive around to see. Churches, restaurants, and universities lease their land for drilling. Here’s a map of the Barnett Shale depicting well sites clearly depiting the proximity to the Ft Worth area: http://www.eia.gov/oil_gas/rpd/shaleusa1_letter.pdf

        All I’m saying is there’s plenty of valid evidence that shows that the health effects of fugitive is a concern. Does that mean we should go all hyper-reactive Green crazy and shut down wells or something? Of course not. Regulated entities working with proper regulators can, and have in many cases, alleviate these health concerns.

        • wagnertinatlanta

          I read the report you cite. I would like to note that this sentence preceded the one you quoted:

          All chemicals monitored at the majority of monitoring sites were either not detected of were detected below levels of immediate health concern.

          The two exceptions were downwind of a compressor station and right next to an incredibly leaky wellhead. Compressor stations, processing plants and wellheads are necessary whether or not fracking is being done and should be sealed and maintained to protect workers as well as the public. Fracking was not blamed for any leaks. Despite a good many colorful claims by anti-fracking activists, I am not aware of any leaks due to fracking, i.e. remote from the wellhead or alongside the casing. As far as proximity to residences goes, fracking is most productive in wells that run horizontally in the production stratum — for as much as a mile in the Barnett Shale, two miles in the Bakken Formation. This confers flexibility in the location of the wellhead so it doesn’t need to be close to houses.

          I agree that the solution to this problem is appropriate regulation. The devil is in the detail of defining “appropriate.” With the EPA’s predilection for finding the appropriate level of any contaminant as zero, the action level being anything detectable (which is now reaching into the parts-per-trillion), and the reward being the saving of a completely unlikely (and completely unverifiable) millions of lives per year, it’s pretty evident they will have us back in the Stone Age by 2050 if given their head. With the exception, of course, that we’ll have to heat with solar. Woodburning creates carbon dioxide, don’cha know.

          • LivingRock

            I agree with all of what you’re saying. The instances of downwind health effects have been shown to be relatively isolated and not typical. And if someone conflates this to ban fracking, that’s ridiculous.

          • Corlyss

            You ought to hear the weeping and wailing from scientific illiterates about a certain medical waste incinerator in Salt Lake county. They know nothing, can prove less, but they make enough hysterical political noise they are about to run a long-standing legitimate and compliant business out of the area. This cycle is repeated over and over again, from Love Canal, to 3 Mile Island, to alleged AGW and climate change without an iota of learning on the part of politicos.

          • El Gringo

            I want cheaper healthcare but I’m not willing to accept the fact that medical waste must be disposed. I want cheaper energy as long as it comes from a state that’s not mine. I want cheaper food as long as cows don’t fart too much.

  • Boritz

    This has the potential to redraw battle lines with beef eaters (not the ones pictured on the gin label) on one side claiming to save the planet by eating the offending cattle and on the other side Greens who will redouble their attacks on the beef industry.

    • Corlyss

      Let’s hope they will be as successful in attacking beef as they have been in eliminating fossil fuels.
      Maybe they should find some way to work gun control into their analyses.

  • bigfire

    Environmentalists’ energy policy has always based on magical thinking. They hate everything that works, preferring to the ones that has the potential of solving everything. Oh, having 99% less human helps.

  • Rick Johnson

    There is no credible evidence that any human activity is having a deleterious effect on the climate. Why give any credibility to those nutters who peddle this man made climate change crap?

    • WalkingHorse

      Quite so.

  • Corlyss

    Any day now EPA and the Greenies will find an argument that 1) doesn’t make them sound too stupid to run a lemonade stand, and 2) fires up the imaginations of the people they need to seize control of policy making in the developed world. This ain’t it.

    • Dan

      do you have a permit for that lemonade stand?

      • El Gringo

        He did but then the FDA shut him down because he didn’t have a permit.

    • WalkingHorse

      I think you are giving the EPA folk and the Greenies too much credit. I think their intent is to return to a standard of living approximating that found in the 7th century, AD. That places the various innovations used in the Roman Empire out of reach and ensures a net mortality rate raised to a level more congruent with their objectives.

  • PapayaSF

    Seriously, I’ve always wondered if you could reduce cow methane emissions by feeding them something like Beano.

    • wagnertinatlanta

      If I recall correctly, a study was made to see if methane emissions could be reduced by feeding cows activated charcoal. I have no idea if it was successful, but at least the cow chips made better campfire fuel.

  • http://smallthoughtsfromasmallmind.wordpress.com/ Charles Kirtley

    I suspect the EPA harms the environment more than cows and the shale gas industry combined.

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