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.