Fracking causing rise in methane emissions, study finds

Researchers can track a marker of fracked gas and say the boom in shale oil and gas major contributor to climate emergency. The amount of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — has increased dramatically in the atmosphere since 2008. The rise in fracking began about the same time.

methane emissions study Cornell

Credit: Robert Howarth via Biogeosciences. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

By Steve Hanley, Clean Technica, August 2019

“Not so! Fake news!” screams the fracking industry. “We are providing a valuable service that helps make America great again by lowering our dependency on foreign energy producers. And even if a little methane leaks from our operations, that’s OK because we are keeping America safe! And besides, no one can prove where all that extra methane comes from, so go pound sand.” This, friends, is what passes for free market capitalism in America today.

Remember when your mother said, “You always get caught?” Well, researchers at Cornell have studied the spike in methane emissions closely and determined there really is a way to tell where it is coming from. It turns out methane from fracking has a slightly different chemical composition than methane from traditional natural gas or that made from coal. It has less carbon 13 relative to the amount of carbon 12 in the center of the methane molecule. That small difference proves the extra methane is coming from fracking. Busted!

Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, has been spearheading the research, which was published August 14 in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

He says the unique carbon 13 signature means that since the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing — commonly called fracking — began, shale gas has increase its share of global natural gas production and has released more methane into the atmosphere. About two thirds of all new gas production over the last decade has been shale gas produced in the United States and Canada, according to a report by Science Daily.

It has been widely reported that tailpipe emissions from cattle as well as from wetlands are responsible for much of the methane in the atmosphere but Professor Howarth’s research suggests otherwise. The methane from those sources has a lower carbon 13 content than methane from most fossil fuels.

Unlike its slow response to carbon dioxide, the atmosphere responds quickly to changes in methane emissions. “Reducing methane now can provide an instant way to slow global warming and meet the United Nations’ target of keeping the planet well below a 2-degree Celsius average rise,” Howarth says.

Atmospheric methane levels had previously risen during the last two decades of the 20th century, but leveled off in the first decade of 21st century. Then, atmospheric methane levels increased dramatically from 2008-14, from about 570 teragrams (570 billion tons) annually to about 595 teragrams, due to global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

“This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player. If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate,” he said. “It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

Now that the truth is out, will the US government take aggressive action to reduce the amount of methane emissions from fracking? Not by the hair on your chiny chin chin, grasshopper. The US government as presently constituted is a staunch ally of the fossil fuel companies, even if that means shirking its Constitutional duty to protect its citizens from harm. It is basically a criminal conspiracy, just as George Carlin told us it was years ago.

Jillian Ambrose in The Guardian Wed 14 Aug 2019

Gas flare at oil well site
 The boom in fracking for shale gas has dramatically increased global methane emissions. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The boom in the US shale gas and oil may have ignited a significant global spike in methane emissions blamed for accelerating the pace of the climate crisis, according to research.

Scientists at Cornell University have found the “chemical fingerprints” of the rising global methane levels point to shale oil and shale gas as the probable source.

Methane, levels of which have been increasing sharply since 2008, is a potent greenhouse gas that heats the atmosphere quicker than carbon dioxide.

Researchers at Cornell said the carbon composition of atmospheric methane, or the “weight” of carbon within each methane molecule, was changing too.

Robert Howarth, the author of the paper published in the journal Biogeosciences, said the proportion of methane with a “carbon signature” linked to traditional fossil fuels was falling relative to the rise of methane with a slightly different carbon make-up.

Researchers had previously assumed the “non-traditional” methane was from biological sources such as cows and wetlands, but the latest research suggests unconventional oil and gas from fracking may be playing a significant part.

The theory would support a correlation in the rise of methane in the atmosphere and the boom in fracking across the US over the last decade.

“This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player.”

However, UK academics have said the jury is still out because there remained “significant uncertainty” about the theory, which has not been conclusively proven.

The claim is “highly contentious in the academic community and further work is needed to constrain uncertainty before conclusions such as this can be robustly backed up”, said Prof Grant Allen, from the Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Manchester.

“However, this paper makes a very important point,” he said. “Controlling emissions from fracking, and fossil fuels in general, represents a potential policy quick fix to stemming the rise of methane still further.”

Howarth said his report showed that if humans stopped emitting large quantities of methane into the atmosphere, it would dissipate. “It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming,” he said.Topics