Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” has been hailed by some as the key to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but condemned by others because the practice can be highly polluting.
Could it be, as well, that fracking is actually responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the natural gas reduces? Theoretically, because natural gas in power generation and transportation generates less carbon dioxide, making more natural gas available, via fracking, would lead to more utilization of natural gas than higher-emissions petroleum. The end result is supposed to be fewer greenhouse gas emissions. While this has been happening, however, the back end of the fracking business has been generating far more greenhouse gases than they were given credit for.
For example, some recent studies came to light after poring over data from a Southwestern Pennsylvania flyover, measuring methane emissions over a number of fracking wells in operation. Methane, of course, is the main component of natural gas, but it’s also a greenhouse gas, about twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide. Of course, some amount of leakage might be expected, and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) had estimated that the wells may average 2.3 g to 4.6 g of methane (CH4) per second per square kilometer (g/s/km2). The reality is far worse.
According to the data researchers collected during their flyover, they were measuring CH4 emissions anywhere between 2 g/s/km2 and 14 g/s/km2, in some cases able to follow the methane plumes directly to the fracking wells operating in the area. True, natural gas carbon dioxide emissions may be lower than petroleum, but the methane emissions seem to be far outweighing any benefit. The best that fracking can do, with these kind of emissions, is curb American dependence on foreign petroleum imports. On the other hand, it does nothing for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide and methane, which is important in our efforts to mitigate climate change.