Natural gas may be a marginally cleaner fossil fuel than coal, but obtaining it through the processing of fracking turns out to be more damaging to the climate than coal ever was. Fracking is a process that splits deposits of natural gas deep underground, using high pressure chemicals. A new study at Cornell has revealed that the process releases large quantities of methane, and other harmful gases, yielding 20% more global warming per unit then coal.
photo © Marcellus Protest
The process, also called hydraulic fracturing, creates open fissures in shale so that natural gas flows freely and can be obtained from a well. Fracking also imposes dangers to drinking water, as the chemicals used in the process can leak into groundwater and drinking water reservoirs. Fracking wells are generally drilled about 8,000 feet deep, and water reservoirs are usually located at around 1,000 feet — as natural gas escapes upward, it infiltrates the water.
Although natural gas burns cleaner than coal and has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the fracking process can negate these benefits. The study shows that the greenhouse gas footprint of fracking shale gas causes the direct emission of harmful carbon dioxide and methane. Methane is over 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2, so it stands to greatly increase the pace of global warming, even over a short period of time.
This study is further proof that we need to move away from fossil fuels and into alternative energy sources altogether. Natural gas has many green benefits over coal, such as less air pollution and cost, but the fracking method just makes it as bad as dirty coal – what the frack?
Lead photo by Wikimedia Commons