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Fracking Methane Emissions Much Higher than Estimated

Does Fracking Generate More Greenhouse Gases than it Saves?
Does Fracking Generate More Greenhouse Gases than it Saves?

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.

Photo credit: danielfoster437 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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  1. NeilFarbstein  Well, keep in mind that methane is estimated at twenty times the greenhouse gas potential of carbon dioxide. Doing some quick calculations, I figure that 14 g/s/km2 CH4 would be the equivalent of 280 g/s/km2 CO2.
    Now, remove the natural gas well and drop in a 19 mpg 2014 Subaru Impreza on a circular track, encircling 1 km2, doing 60 mph, all day and all night, for years on end. 19 mpg generates approximately 280 g/mi CO2, which would be the equivalent of 14 g/s/km2 CH4.
    Finally, boost that number by how many km2 the methane emissions are occurring, and it’s scary. The researchers’ flyover area was 2,800 km2, Imagine 2,800 2014 Subaru Imprezae running in circles, day and night, for years on end, with nobody in them.
    I don’t know if that answers your question at all.
    (No, I have nothing against Subaru, I just picked the first 19 mpg car on fueleconomy.gov)

  2. that doesn’t seem like a lot of methane few grams per second spread out over a square kilometer. can somebody comment?


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