Natural gas fracking is not causing a spike in U.S. methane emissions, the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data show. The data debunk assertions by global warming alarmists that recent declines in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions—caused largely by the increasing use of low-carbon natural gas power—are being offset by rising methane emissions from natural gas fracking.
Asserted Methane Leaks
Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program, presented a frequently made criticism of natural gas fracking in the Jan. 4 Fairfield Citizen.
"Replacing coal with natural gas reduces smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury, but natural gas production and distribution comes with a host of problems, including methane leaks, contaminated water supplies, destroyed streams and devastated landscapes," said Lashof.
When methane is in the atmosphere, it is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. However, there is much less methane in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and methane remains in the atmosphere for much shorter time periods than carbon dioxide. Accordingly, natural gas production and usage must cause a substantial increase in methane emissions to offset its 50 reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to coal.
Natural gas has high methane content, but the methane is converted to energy when natural gas is burnt. Anti-fracking activists, however, argue substantial amounts of methane can be released into the atmosphere during the natural gas production process due to leakage at production sites and during transportation.
Data Show Emissions Decline
EPA data show no such spike in U.S. methane emissions. According to EPA’s “Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2011,” U.S. methane emissions are in long-term decline – with minor year-to-year variations – with 2011 emissions (the most recent year for which EPA has data) down 8 percent from 1990 levels. Methane emissions are down 5 percent since 2007, when the fracking boom began.
Methane emissions specific to natural gas are also in long-term decline. Natural gas methane emissions are down 10 percent since 1990, down 9 percent since 2000, and down 16 percent since 2007.
The ongoing decline in methane emissions supplements ongoing declines in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are down 6 percent since 2000 and down 9 percent since 2007.
Other Claims Also Debunked
Objective data also contradict Lashof’s other assertions.
Despite federal, state, and local officials testing of thousands of water sites near fracking operations, President Barack Obama’s EPA administrator has testified EPA has never found a single instance of water contamination caused by fracking.
Data from the American Wind Energy Association show wind turbines require 300 to 600 square miles of land development to replace a single natural gas power plant. Natural gas production sites require only a few acres of land disruption during initial construction, with most of the land returned to its natural state after initial construction is completed.
James M. Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org ) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.