From Green Right Now Reports

Groups protesting natural gas drilling have focused on the threat to water supplies. They point to the modern drilling or “fracking” methods, which shatter rock deep beneath the earth, opening fissures that threaten water stores; and they cite cases of wells being contaminated near fracking operations in Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Now new research by three Cornell University scientists suggests that fracking could cause even more havoc with the atmosphere

They say the natural gas industry is responsible for about 39 percent of US methane emissions, which calls into question whether natural gas can be the cleaner “bridge fuel” that it’s been portrayed to be by the industry and many policymakers. Natural gas has won favor from many government leaders because it burns more cleanly than gasoline or coal.

The Cornell research, however, looks at the pollution caused by natural gas production, as opposed to consumption, concluding that its extraction contributes greatly to climate change.

The natural gas industry currently accounts for about 17 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions, when carbon dioxide, methane and other gases are counted, according to the researchers. They predict that will grow to around 23 percent as fracking methods replace conventional drilling techniques.

Because methane is many times more potent than carbon dioxide in acting as a warming blanket in the earth’s atmosphere, the methane releases from fracking will be particularly damaging, they said.

“We believe the preponderance of evidence indicates shale gas has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than conventional gas, considered over any time scale,” said Robert W. Howarth, David R. Atkinson professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University.

“The greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas also exceeds that of oil or coal when considered at decadal time scales, no matter how the gas is used.  We stand by the conclusion of our 2011 research: ‘The large [greenhouse gas] footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming.’”

The report, “Venting and Leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development,” is being published by Climatic Change and can be seen online. Its authors, Howarth and Renee Santoro, are researchers in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Co-author Athony Ingraffea is a professor in the School of Civil an Environmental Engineering.

The study follows up on their April 2011 paper, which analyzed greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The research looked at emissions from shale gas used for electricity generation (about 30 percent of US usage) and heat generation, according to a Cornell statement.

Ingraffea, Dwight C. Baum professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, says the findings call into question the plans to use natural gas as a bridge fuel for heating and power plants.  “Upgrading the pipelines alone for this type of project would require large expenditures, he said.

“Should society invest massive capital in such improvements for a bridge fuel that is to be used for only 20 to 30 years, or would the capital be better spent on constructing a smart electric grid and other technologies that move towards a truly green energy future?”