A close examination of the facts exposes unconventional gas as anything but a cleaner bridge fuel. The gas obtained from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) leaks at every step in the process from extraction to the transportation and distribution. New research suggests these leaks cancel out the emissions reduction efforts of the Obama administration.
While it was known that fracking operations leak, the extent of those leaks is far worse than anyone, including the EPA had expected. Leakage of as little as 4 percent makes fracking a dirtier source of energy than coal. As Colm Sweeney, the head of the aircraft program at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, told the journal Nature, leakage makes the climate value of natural gas highly questionable.
A number of studies suggest that leakage rates in fracking are way above 4 percent. These studies show that leakage rates are between 7 and 17 percent. However the actual rates may be much higher.
“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of a 2014 analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”
As reported by the Climate Desk, the World Resources Institute (WRI) indicates that the leakage of natural gas amounts to approximately $1.5 billion a year in lost revenues
“Those leaks are everywhere,” said WRI analyst James Bradbury said in 2013. Leaks are ubiquitous in the nation’s 300,000 miles of natural gas pipeline. Bradbury says that if President Obama wants to tackle climate change he must address the issue. “You want to get these rules in place at the front end; we’re already playing catch-up.”
Although the EPA has released new methane emission rules they only apply to new fracking operations. The regulations seek to reduce gas-sector methane emissions 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.
The Environmental Defense Fund and Google were behind a series of studies that showed that methane leaks are a serious problem particularly older cities. As the Porter Ranch disaster illustrated there are also massive methane leaks from extraction and storage sites.
In February, Harvard researchers used satellite data to conclude that between 2002 and 2014, US methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent. This methane is responsible for 30 to 60 percent of the global increases in atmospheric methane.
In addition to the EPA’s new climate rules, the US and Canada reached an agreement in March designed to reign in the leaks from all that new gas infrastructure.
However the amount of methane that continues to leak is massive and the multiple points at which this leakage occurs means that it will not be easily remedied.
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