Backyard Talk

Fracking’s Methane Problem

imagesIt doesn’t take too long to scroll through the CHEJ blog roll to find multiple examples of the negative health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. But, even if fracking could be done in a manner that did not pollute and negatively impact the lives of some of America’s most vulnerable citizens, there is another very important reason why fracking may not be the energy solution that many of our leaders believe it is.
First, let’s take a step back and quickly discuss a major reason why fracking has been a focal point in our energy strategy over the last decade, climate change. Because hydraulic fracturing allows energy producers to access natural gas sources, mostly made up of methane, natural gas has the capacity to mitigate climate change. This is due to the fact that, when burned as a fuel, natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as coal. This has led many, including Obama, to adopt the strategy of using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to replace the most carbon-intense sources, such as coal, while renewable technology, such as wind and solar become cheap enough to use on a grand scale.
Even if we ignore the poor record of pollution and injustice associated with fracking, there is another huge hurdle in this “bridge fuel” plan. There is a significant portion of fracked natural gas that is not being burned as fuel and is being released directly into the atmosphere as methane, a greenhouse gas that is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This methane is often leaked into the atmosphere during the extraction process. Even with a minimal leakage rate, there is the potential that methane emissions are offsetting the climate benefits of natural gas and using the fuel could actually be worse for the climate than coal. This is particularly troubling, as it would mean a total failure of America’s climate change mitigation strategy over the last eight years.
Currently, the EPA reports very small leakage rates that are based on industry data. With this data, fracking might still pass this very important test. The only problem is that multiple studies have been produced just in the last five years that report much higher leakage rates and spell disaster for our climate as a result. A recent study by Harvard researchers reports leakage rates much higher than EPA numbers, and a 30 percent increase in methane emissions from 2002-2014.
Considering this troubling data about methane emission, not to mention the public health impacts of fracking, maybe it is time to give up this bridge fuel plan and start utilizing renewables on a grand scale now. At the very least, let’s stop using the argument that fracking is good for climate change and have a more honest dialogue about our energy future.
Find out more about fracking’s methane problem.

Backyard Talk

How Real is Governor Cuomo’s Ban on Fracking?

By: Rachel Oest

The recent celebrations over New York Governor Cuomo’s ban on hydraulic fracking have come to an end. A group of farm families in Tioga County, NY have filed for a state permit for a natural gas well that uses gelled propane and sand instead of water mixed with chemicals. The process is still fracking, but it would skirt the state’s ban.

When announcing the ban, Cuomo recognized the emotionally charged nature over the debate and then stated, “I will be bound by what the experts say.” He then turned all attention to state health and environmental officials. The officials said the potential health and environmental impacts are too great to allow fracking to proceed in the state, and pointed to studies regarding the long-term safety of hydraulic fracturing. DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens explained that fracking in New York is “uncertain at best” and the economic benefits are “far lower than originally forecasted.” Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker revealed that in other states where fracking is happening, he found that state health commissioners were not even present when decisions about the process were being made. Based on these finding, Governor Cuomo announced “I think it’s our responsibility to develop an alternative … for safe, clean economic development.”

Shortly after these announcements though, a drilling application was filed with the state DEC by Tioga Energy Partners- a contracting company working with the Snyder Farm Group. The five families leasing their land for natural gas development claim to be outside of the state’s ban and want to tap in to the Utica Shale formation by developing a 53-acre natural gas well in the town of Barton. Since the process avoids the need for millions of gallons of fresh water and doesn’t result in the enormous volumes of polluted wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing, proponents call propane fracking a more environmentally benign method. But there is no such thing as environmentally friendly fracking. All types of drilling inherently carry serious public health and environmental risks. Instead of entertaining the idea of workarounds, the focus should be on building a cleaner, healthier energy supply.

The DEC will review the application as required by law, but let’s hope Governor Cuomo is serious about this ban.