Thursday, February 18, 2016

Methane Leaks Erase Climate Benefit of Fracked Gas, Countless Studies Find

Pumpjack and flaring (Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) Click to Enlarge.
New satellite data and surface observations analyzed by Harvard researchers confirm previous data and observations:  U.S. methane emissions are considerably higher than the official numbers from the EPA. Significantly, the EPA numbers are mostly based on industry-provided estimates, not actual measurements.

While this new study doesn’t attribute a specific source to the remarkable 30 percent increase in U.S. methane emissions from 2002–2014, many other studies have identified the source of those emissions as leakage of methane from the natural gas production and delivery system.

The central problem for the climate is that natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), a super-potent greenhouse gas, which traps 86 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20-year period.  That’s why many studies find that even a very small leakage rate can have a large climate impact — enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas for a long, long time.

Even worse, other studies find — surprise, surprise — natural gas plants don’t replace only high-carbon coal plants.  They often replace very low carbon power sources like solar, wind, nuclear, and even energy efficiency.  That means even a very low leakage rate wipes out the climate benefit of fracking.

Indeed, researchers confirmed in 2014 that — even if methane leakage were zero percent — “increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.”  Exactly.  In fact, a study just last month found that natural gas and renewables are competing directly with each other to replace coal plants in this country.

All of these findings taken together vindicate the concerns of high leakage rates raised by Cornell professors Howarth, Santoro and Ingraffea, which I reported on back in 2011.  Howarth told Climate Central this week that the increase in methane emissions “almost certainly must be coming from the fracking and from the increase in use of natural gas.”  Howarth notes that even with deep CO2 cuts, we’re headed toward dangerous 2°C warming by mid-century.

“But the planet responds much more rapidly to methane, so a reduction in methane emissions now would slow the rate of global warming immediately,” he said.

The good news is that renewables are ready to handle the job of running a modern economy, so we don’t need to rely on natural gas as a “bridge” to a carbon-free future. 
The bad news is that many people still tout the supposed climate benefits of the fracking revolution — despite a paucity of observations and analysis to support that view and a plethora of data and research undermining it.

Read more at Methane Leaks Erase Climate Benefit of Fracked Gas, Countless Studies Find

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