Lies Propaganda and Methane

I find myself an unlikely defender of fracking. This is not because I think there is anything particularly dodgy (or wonderful) about fracking but because I think that gas is only useful in the short term. The hope for a low pollution low emissions future lies firmly with nuclear.

Even so, I feel I need to blog the rampant scare mongering, lies and black propaganda surrounding what is a relatively minor modification to a well established industrial activity.

I wont bore you with yet another synopsis of fracking or how fracturing rock in non horisontal wells has been common practice for about 40 years. Instead I'll cut straight to the fear mongering surrounding fracking.

Fear Mongering Item One: Water Table Pollution

After years of outright lies, faked or irrelevant videos (including flaming faucets) and other general hysteria about water table pollution, the US Environmental Protection Agency produced a mammoth report on the potential and real impacts of Fracking on drinking water (Executive Summary Here)

This report, while carefully worded, essentially demolishes the whole basis of the propaganda alleging widespread pollution and water contamination from fracking.

True, there have been a small number of spills and pollution incidents, mainly from poor well head and surface maintenance. These have been dealt with and in some cases prosecuted as you would expect.

In the USA, fracking is a very, very large and diverse industry. Sadly occasional errors do and will occur. All industries suffer similar and often much worse failures.

But rampant water table pollution? No.

Black propaganda always has a shelf life. Today the lies and gross exaggeration peddled about fracking and water table damage is now pretty much an embarrassing busted flush.

So instead, now we have:

Fear Mongering Item Two: Methane Leaks

Using natural gas (Methane) as a replacement for coal in Electrical generation cuts the Carbon Dioxide emissions by about a half. That is why people are excited about it as a way to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Since around 2007 when Fracking took off in the USA Fracking gas has replaced coal to such an extent that USA Carbon Dioxide emissions from electrical generation have been reduced by about 15%.

Her is a graph on how its dropped in the last few years.

It might not look like much but it is the largest drop for any country in the world in the last ten years. Today Dirty USA has electricity emissions that are lower than Energiewende obsessed Germany.

Notice how the drop correlates with the rise in fracking in the graph below.

So whats not to like?

Methane is a Greenhouse gas about 25 times more virulent than Carbon Dioxide. So if you use Methane to cut down Carbon Dioxide emissions by replacing Coal with it, but then manage to lose somewhere between 4 and 7% of your gas into the atmosphere you end up back at square one. Lose a higher percentage and you are in negative territory.

(First of all - as an analogy, would you happily slop close on to a gallon of fuel over your shoes every time you filled your car because the filler cap leaked? Or would you get it fixed?)

The general anti-fracking hysteria surrounds a respectable 2013 paper by Karion Sweeney et. al. In their paper on a single day they measured rogue Methane above one area of the USA. They found leakage rates corresponding to 6-11%.

Is that bad? Yes.

Does it need investigating further? Yes.

Does it mean that gas fields in USA are leaking between 6-11%? No.
(Paper is Here)

To be fair to Karion, Sweeney and colleagues - they do say in the introduction:
This study demonstrates the mass balance technique as a valuable tool for estimating emissions from oil and gas production regions and illustrates the need for further atmospheric measurements to determine the representativeness of our single-day estimate and to better assess inventories of
CH4 emissions.

The main and most definitive source for data on Methane and other gaseous emissions in the USA is the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). They have been accumulating evidence on American rogue Methane for over 30 years.

Firstly the EPA have produced a breakdown of the different industrial areas that release rogue Methane. (document ref Here )

They also give an idea of Methane release by year.

From this graph we see rogue Methane from all sources has actually fallen by 15% since 1990 to 2013. The greatest decrease has actually coincided with the massive shale gas bonanza from 2007. Furthermore the EPA state that while rogue Methane has fallen by 15%. the rogue Methane emitted by farming has actually risen and has been offset by a bigger fall in release of rogue Methane from the oil and gas industry. So while fracking has been rapidly expanding, Methane loss has actually gone down in the oil and gas industry by somewhere between 15-20%.

The main reason organisations like the FoE continually promote mistruths about Methane release is because of the success Gas has had in cutting Carbon Dioxide emissions in the USA while their poster boys of wind and solar have barely scratched the surface. Gas has shown us how their dogmatic obsession with wind and solar has led us all down a blind alley.

We must make sure we judge fracking in the UK by the plentiful scientific evidence from the USA and not by the manipulated half truths from the FoE.

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