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.
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.