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The Race for Natural Gas


Study Finds Limited Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Fracking

September 16th 2013

Fracking gas well

A new study has concluded that the controversial natural gas development method known as fracking releases “significantly lower” emissions of the greenhouse gas methane thanks to pollution control equipment. The analysis from the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund, which was supported by multiple oil-and-gas companies, found that leakage of the gas were 97 percent lower than 2011 estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. The conclusion should provide a boon to proponents of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which supporters say is a cleaner source of energy than coal.

“This study tackles one of the most hotly debated issues in environmental science and policy today,” said Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president with the Environmental Defense Fund, in a statement. “It shows that when producers use practices to capture or control emissions, such as green completions, methane can be dramatically reduced.”

The oil-and-gas industry saw the new numbers as an indication that additional fracking regulations are not necessary. “The industry will continue to make substantial progress to reduce emissions voluntarily and in compliance with EPA's recent emissions standards,” said Howard Feldman, head of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, in a statement. “Capturing methane is helping operators deliver more natural gas to consumers, creating a built-in incentive to continue reducing these emissions."

Hydraulic fracturing involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations to release trapped gas. Natural gas produces far less carbon than coal does when burned to produce electricity.

However, advocates and opponents of the energy resource have sparred over how much methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, is leaked as a result of natural gas development. Some researchers have asserted that methane pollution caused by fracking makes the process as destructive to the climate as coal.

Environmentalists who have opposed hydraulic fracturing asserted on Monday that the industry-backed analysis was deeply flawed. “This study falls short in its attempt to help answer questions about methane emissions from modern gas development beyond the small number of gas industry-selected wells where measures were taken,” said the executive director of Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, Seth Shonkoff, in a statement.

The group said that the 150 sites selected for the study were not typical locations, argued that the survey ignores other repercussions of methane emissions and does not account for the ways its findings conflict with independent studies, which have shown much higher emissions.

Americans Against Fracking, an environmental advocacy coalition, added that the study was “more spin than science.” “The only responsible path forward is deploying renewables and increasing energy efficiency—not building another 30 years of infrastructure for the oil and gas industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, which is a member of the coalition.

Among the energy companies that helped fund the study were Chevron, Shell and XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

Julian Hattem writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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