Global Warming Potential

Tue, 2013-08-13 07:00Sharon Kelly
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Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking's Climate Impact Grows

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands – one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development – to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

But the haze over the Uintah isn’t the most dangerous air pollutant coming from the oil and gas fields in the valley.

A string of studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the core ingredient in natural gas, methane, is leaking at rates far higher than previously suspected.  This methane has climate change impacts that, on a pound-for-pound basis, will be far more powerful over the next two decades than the carbon dioxide emissions that have been the focus of most climate change discussions.

The smog problem is especially pronounced in Utah. But a growing body of research nationwide suggests that methane is leaking from the natural gas industry at levels far higher than previously known.

In Washington D.C., pressure is mounting to ignore these methane leaks. The oil and gas industry says there is no time to waste. We must proceed immediately with the “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy they say, code for “drill baby drill”. This pressure is coming not only from the natural gas industry itself, but also from a surprising ally: the Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported natural gas development as a “bridge” from coal to renewables.

This position has drawn renewed accusations that the EDF is “greenwashing” for the natural gas industry.

Sun, 2012-01-29 10:53Carol Linnitt
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The Cornell Team Redux: Shale Gas a Disaster for Climate

Unconventional gas offers no advantage over other fossil fuels when considering its impact on the climate, according to a new report from a group of researchers at Cornell University. The Cornell Team, who made waves in the shale debate with groundbreaking research on methane leakage in gas production are challenging the gas industry’s claim that gas offers a clean, environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional fossil fuels. The team, comprised of Robert Howarth, Anthony Ingraffea and Renee Santoro, recently released a companion study to their contentious April 2011 report, continuing to reveal that shale gas is inadequate as a bridge fuel and may be worse for climate change in the long run than coal.

The team’s new study analyzes the combined effect of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over a 20-year timeframe. Investigating the impact of emissions from both electricity generation, which accounts for about 30 percent of US gas usage, and heat generation, which accounts for the majority of the country’s gas usage, the report emphasizes the enormous projected role of unconventional gas – and its associated emissions – in America’s energy future. 

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