Fracking Lobby’s Green Claims May be Overstated

Hydraulic fracturing proponents almost always point to the supposed environmental benefits of natural gas to back up their support for the fracking industry. But it is becoming clear that natural gas – especially when it is extracted via <"">fracking – is not as green as its supporters would like us to believe.

According to a report on ProPublica, natural gas enthusiasts claim it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal. But those claims don’t account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.

According to a new analysis from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methane emissions from fracking were up to 9,000 times higher than previously reported. The greenhouse gases emitted each from leaking loose pipe fittings and gas flaring at well sites is roughly equal to what is emitted by 35 million automobiles annually.

When all this is figured, ProPublica says natural gas may be as little as 25 percent cleaner than coal, or perhaps even less.

The ProPublica piece points out that natural gas drilling emissions alone are believed account for at least one-fifth of human-caused methane in the world’s atmosphere. The EPA expects these emissions to increase dramatically as more natural gas is drilled.

What’s more, the advantage of natural gas holds true only when it is burned in more modern and efficient plants. But according to ProPublica, half of the 1,600 gas-fired power plants in the United States operate at the lowest end of the efficiency spectrum. As such, the median gas-powered plant in the United States is just 40 percent cleaner than coal. Even worse, the inefficient plants offer only a 25 percent improvement.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface to release gas deposits buried deep in shale. The natural gas drilling method is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, drillers are not required to disclose the chemicals that make up fracking fluids. Some studies have found that fracking fluids contain toxic chemicals, including benzene glycol-ethers, toluene, 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) ethanol, and nonylphenols. Fracking proponents have long used arguments about the purported environmental advantages of natural gas to resist efforts to further regulate the industry.

Last year, the EPA embarked on a major study to assess the environmental impacts of fracking. Fracking opponents hope it will lead to more regulation of the industry.

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