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.