The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Natural Gas is Much Greener Than Greens Thought

A new EPA report punches all kinds of holes in one of greens’ chief concerns about the American shale boom: methane gas leaks.

Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel source when burned, but acts as an extremely potent greenhouse gas if allowed to escape into the atmosphere during drilling or transport, and many greens predict that the shale gas boom will inevitably lead to more leaks of this dangerous gas. But the EPA’s report revises estimates of methane emissions leaked during 2010 gas drilling downward by 30 percent. The AP reports:

In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions, the agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That’s about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates….

The EPA revisions came even though natural gas production has grown by nearly 40 percent since 1990. The industry has boomed in recent years, thanks to a stunning expansion of drilling in previously untapped areas because of the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects sand, water and chemicals to break apart rock and free the gas inside.

Companies are developing more sophisticated leak detection systems, and unlike many other environmental problems (like, say, power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions), there is a market incentive to prevent these leaks without any sort of green interventionist policy. Every unit of methane released into the atmosphere during drilling is lost profit.

But that’s not stopping misguided greens like Bill McKibben from bemoaning the news. McKibben took this opportunity to stress the need to transition away from fossil-fuels altogether, rather than appreciating the fact that we’re extracting one of the cleanest fossil-fuels more efficiently and with much less environmental impact than ever before. McKibben’s blinders are firmly in place; we’re unlikely to see a revision to a post of his earlier this month in which he suggested that methane leakage might make natural gas worse for the environment than coal.

This isn’t good news for the Malthusians and Chicken Littles of the world. Their brand of environmentalism thrives on public anxiety, and it will only become less persuasive with more reports like this one. But for the rest of us, this is yet another reason to be optimistic about America’s energy future.

[Pipeline image courtesy of Shutterstock]

Published on April 29, 2013 5:45 pm
  • Corlyss Drinkard

    EPA’s shockingly encouraging report notwithstanding, Obama will not approve the XL pipeline until after the 2014 elections, if then. He wants those green ideologues clinging tightly to his skirts.

    • skhpcola

      Exactly, because to the ecofascists, Ozero, and the ideologues that support both of those parties, smashing the economy is the modern-day equivalent of Luddites smashing the looms that brought higher standards of living. These people are a danger to the nation and our future, yet they find a credible and enthusiastic audience among the religious cult of American leftists.

    • Andrew Allison

      Can we please stop referring to them as “Greens” and call them what they are, namely Eco-Luddites!

      • Corlyss Drinkard

        I wouldn’t mind using that term, but I fear everyone but me and thee would think we were talking about those who resolutely fought the AGW hysteria.

  • Isaac Ohel

    Good news. Now, we need to accelerate the move from coal to gas in power generation. A carbon fee would serve that purpose.

    • Corlyss Drinkard

      Oh, please. Carbon nonsense. CO2 caused by human activity amounts to less than 1/10th of 1% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. Plate tectonics causes thousands times more than human activity. Perhaps we should charge the plates a tax for polluting.

      • Isaac Ohel

        Small amount (actually about 1%), true, but it is upsetting the natural balance. For the last half a million years, atmospheric CO2 has fluctuated between 200 and 300 parts per million (ppm). Since the industrial revolution it has increased at an unprecedented rate to the current level of 390 ppm. That is a 30% increase. Isotope studies indicate that the increase may be due to human activity.

  • DiogenesDespairs

    Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but only has an atmospheric life of a few weeks because it is fairly active chemically.

    Of course, if you are intent on fomenting environmental hysteria, you have to ignore that inconvenient truth and hope nobody else notices…

  • Lance Sjogren

    Don’t denigrate Malthusians. I am a Malthusian but I support natural gas development.

  • flexfuel

    Finally the US is catching up to the rest of the world and starting to use natural gas on a wide level. It is cheaper and cleaner than oil (of course) and we don’t necessarily have to import it from anywhere. If we could apply this to other fuels like ethanol and methanol, I think our economy would be at a such better place today.