A Real Frackin’ Distraction

The hydraulic fracturing for the purpose of capturing natural gas is having a real impact in the United States.

Not just on the portfolio of fuels used to generate our energy (coal-fired power generation is falling dramatically and fracked natural gas is taking up the slack enthusiastically).

Fracked natural gas is changing the discussion on climate change, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Because  natural gas emits about one half the CO2 as coal when burned, the portfolio switch from coal to natural gas has allowed a significant improvement in U.S. emissions, which have fallen to 2007 levels despite continued economic and manufacturing growth.

The reaction of climate activists is to basically say ‘It doesn’t count! Gas still emits CO2!’ More reasonable people offer their thanks and the hope that natural gas can serve as a bridge fuel that tides us over until some combination of nuclear and ‘true’ renewables can carry a bigger part of the load.

But I’m writing about this because of the switch natural gas has caused in the conversation. I routinely look through as many climate-centered weblogs as I can and I can tell you that natural gas has caused a switch in the topics covered.

From the house organ Climate Progress to lesser weblogs like DeSmogBlog, stories about fracked gas abound.

What seems more interesting to me is that the introduction of fracking to the climate conversation also seems to have opened the floodgates for discussion of other topics, ranging from the closely related subject of Arctic oil drilling to the vaguely parallel, if entirely separate, subject of the safety of GMOs.

This is a real public good. The climate conversation in and of itself has verged on a stale sterility, with the same bad actors making the same bad points–from Mann and Gleick on one end to Monckton and Morano on the other. Introducing  both sub and separate topics increases the opportunity to learn, communicate–and maybe share at some point down the road.

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20 responses to “A Real Frackin’ Distraction

  1. Climate activists who do not embrace the abundance of natural gas have not been listening. How many just a few years ago were talking about natural gas as the bridge fuel for the goal of reducing and eliminating CO2 emissions?

  2. The environmentalists seem to be anti-fracking. I’ve watched part of Gasland docmentary, and it seemed to be quite one sided. Solar and wind do not appear to be viable major sources of power for the world in the near future at the present rate of comsumption. California and others don’t consider hydro-power as renewable probably due to heavy lobbing by environmentalists due to effects on free flowing water. I think they are more idealistic than common sense.

    • Sierra Club and a few other environmental organizations were originally supporting fracked gas with the excuse that it lowered greenhouse emmissions. Then it came to light how much money they were receiving from Chesapeake and the rest of the frackers and there was a grassroots rebellion.
      I think that you will find that the anti-hydro enviromentalists are also bought and paid for. I have seen a great deal of support for hydro at the grass roots level.

    • I saw Gasland in Warren County, ground zero for fracking in PA. The director, Josh Fox, was there. I wasn’t impressed.
      Don’t worry about it being one sided. Those of us who live here are bombarded daily with pro fracking propaganda.

  3. I think more scrutiny of hydraulic fracturing would be intelligent. I think calls for cessation of fracking are going way overboard.

  4. I think that there should be a moratorium until everyone knows what the frack they are doing. Is it really too much to ask for the frackers to inform the public about the chemicals they are using. We don’t even know if the miniquakes we’re having are a result of the fracking or part of the process.

    • Hiya Marty,

      Actually, there’s a lot of evidence that horizontal drilling does cause earthquakes, as noted during exploration for geo thermal power plants. They stopped a couple of projects because of it and it wasn’t even considered controversial.

      The earthquakes were small–nothing like the one that dam in China contributed to a while back–but the cause and effect were pretty clearly shown and accepted.

      • That’s not what I;m saying. There is a strong correlation between fracking and miniquakes. That’s proven. What I am asking is if the quakes are actually part of the process. If the process is so secretive, I am going to assume the worst until it becomes more transparent.

    • So on balance, I’d say go slow–but go…

      • Do you see the frackers going slow. It’s the speed that’s scaring people. If they declare a moratorium now and just let them finish the ones they started that’s still a lot of damage.

  5. I can smell natural gas. I grew up in a rural area on the Allegheny Plateau. Walking around the woods, we could tell when we were close to a gas well by the smell before we could see it.
    During the five days in December that I was away, I went camping in the heart of Hickory Creek Wilderness which is on top of the Marcellus Shale. They aren’t allowed to frack in the wilderness but they are fracking around the edges. It was cold, below freezing most of the time. Nothing was decaying. The air was clean and crisp. The wind was still.
    Wondering around I could find occasional pockets where I could smell natural gas very strongly. I was over 3 miles from the closest fracking site.
    There’s a lake nearby where flammable gas is bubbling to the surface in a quantity too large to be any natural process.
    They’re destabilizing a very large area.

  6. Not only does natural gas give off C02 when burned, theres large amounts of methane which escape during fracking. Methane, Pound for pound, is over 20 times greater than CO2 when discussing climate change. Over 60% of Global Methane is released by humans, right now. With the melting of actic ice, antarctic ice and tundra, large amounts of methane are also now starting to increase worldwide, contributing exponentially to the amount now in the atmosphere. It takes anywhere from 12 to 14 for methane to naturally decompose after its released.

    • Thank you for posting. There are several points I’m trying to make.
      1. Fracked gas is not the same as what we ususally call natural gas. There are more impurities, more complex hydrocarbons and more radioactivity.
      2. There is far more leaking from fracking than traditional drilling.
      3. Personally, I am more worried about the immediate, local damage of fracking.
      4. The EPA ruling on co2 was simply a gift to the gas-oil industry. It made the world safe for frackers. There are no environmental benefits. I have expanded on this in other posts.

      Part of the aim of this blog was to create a different kind of dialogue between more of a cross section than other blogs. I hope you stay.

  7. Dani, if i can echo Marty’s final thoughts, I also hope you stick around and contribute.

  8. Marty,
    Can you describe the smell? I ask because natural gas is odorless. The distinctive smell we associate associate with natural gas is added in the refining process to protect gas users.

    • I have heard this before. That’s why I made the point of saying that I was comparing it to the odor from natural gas wells that I lived by not natural gas from a stove. They smell different. But they both have distinctive smells.
      Spend a few days in the country and let your nose become sensitive. Then walk up to a gas well. Don’t tell me you can’t smell it.

      • Sure. There are trace hydrocarbons you can smell. There’s a reason they’re “aromatic”. But even the human nose can detect these things at tiny trace levels, which doesn’t help quantify anything….

      • Bill C, How can anyone quantify anything to do with fracking when they don’t have to release data. Walking around sniffing is the best I can do.

      • well, if you could calibrate your nose then you could use it to run a dispersion model in inverse, or something.

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