Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent, The Guardian, 20 Sep 2019
A global campaign backed by 450 activist groups and celebrities, including actors Emma Thompson and Mark Ruffalo, is calling on the UN to endorse a global end to fracking before the industry torpedoes efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
The open letter to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, includes signatures from individuals representing global environmental movements, universities and faith groups.
The open letter said fracking for fossil fuels “torpedoes our global efforts to tackle climate change and violates basic human rights”. Hydraulic fracturing is more commonly known as fracking and involves pumping water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release trapped oil and gas.
The open letter to the UN comes seven years after the UN Environment Programme issued a global alert on fracking, which concluded it may have adverse environmental impacts even if done properly.
The letter also points to the “overwhelming scientific documenting” of the fracking industry’s negative impact on the environment, public health and the climate crisis. The activist signatories include members of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
Robert Howarth, a professor at Cornell University in the US and one of the letter’s signatories, said fracking for shale gas was a climate disaster because the process releases huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
He said: “Over the past decade, methane levels have been rising rapidly in the atmosphere, contributing significantly to the unprecedented global climate disruption seen in recent years.”
Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and threatens to accelerate the pace of global heating.
Howarth added: “Over 60% of the increased global methane emissions are from the oil and gas industry, and shale gas development in North America is responsible for one-third of the increased emissions from all sources.”
Emma Thompson, who also supported the climate protests led by Extinction Rebellion in central London earlier this year, said: “Fracking is the fossil fuel world’s worst idea to date” and called it “an affront to common sense, common health and the safety of the planet”.
She added: “It’s pointless, expensive, doesn’t create jobs that will serve a community, but it does pollute, damage and contribute to wrecking the climate. Its poisonous presence in our green and pleasant land is an as a whole.”
Not so fast on fracking, UN agency tells developing countries
Citing data from the United States Energy Information Administration, the UNCTAD report indicates that the world has around 60 years’ worth of shale gas left before the resource is exhausted. Around half of the 215 trillion cubic metres this represents is in Algeria, Argentina, Canada, China and the Untied States – although the US is the world’s leading shale gas producer, with 87 per cent of total output.
“The U.S. is like an exception,” said Mr Nkurunziza, noting that no other country has the “huge investments” necessary to fund shale gas exploration on such a scale.
Thanks to this financial strength, the North American giant also became a net exporter of natural gas in July last year, while the country’s massive commitment to liquefaction facilities has also put it on course to hold the third largest processed stock of the energy source in the world, after Australia and Qatar between now and 2020.
Other factors such as land ownership, also explain the US dominance in shale gas exploration, Mr Nkurunziza said, highlighting that in the US, “if you want to use your land to frack it’s up to you”.
The UNCTAD official added that the world’s largest economy also has “highest technology that’s available” for fracking to happen, along with a highly flexible financial system capable of resisting the ups and downs of commodity price changes.
“In the U.S. sometimes when the prices go down they stop fracking, when the prices increase the investments are there, so investors will come and do it, so it’s very flexible”.