Last week we talked about what fracking was, and how it’s not a breakthrough green energy like many claim. In fact, fracking can be as dirty as coal due to methane leaks. In this week’s blog, I will look further into just how much methane is leaking, whether it’s something to worry about.
It is critical to understand just how bad methane can be for the environment. If a reasonably intelligent person were asked what gas is behind global warming, the most common response would likely be carbon dioxide. And that’s correct – carbon dioxide is the biggest contributor to global warming. But most people wouldn’t think methane would be the next biggest contributor. Methane’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is significant – although there is over 200 times more CO2 than methane in the atmosphere, methane’s effect on global warming is 28% of carbon dioxide’s. Think about that. Methane is contributing over a quarter of the warming that carbon dioxide is, yet carbon dioxide is 200 times more prevalent in the atmosphere.
Methane is even more dangerous in the short run. Being a “mere” 33 times more potent than CO2 over the course of a century, it is a whopping 105 times more powerful than CO2 over a twenty-year period. This means that releasing more methane gas will have a much more severe and immediate impact on global warming than releasing more carbon dioxide will.
But how much is fracking contributing to the total methane released into our atmosphere? Leaks of methane occur while drilling, compression, and pipeline transport. Natural gas plants also leak significant amounts of methane. One study found that natural gas plants could leak upwards of 1000 tons of natural gas per year. Several studies found that leakage rates could be up to 9% of total natural gas production. Natural gas drilling is now the world’s third largest methane releaser, behind factory farms and landfills. And it won’t be the third largest for long.
Many scientists believe that the rapid development of shale deposits could result in huge methane releases and potentially tip the planet into an “alternate climate system.” That’s the last thing we want as we attempt to divert the planet from experiencing an irreversible climate change. Increasing the drilling of natural gas may be cheaper and easier than developing other alternative energies like solar or wind power, but when energy companies cut corners, the earth will feel the consequences.