President Obama Creates New Fracking Oversight Panel, Overlooks Fracking's Eco-Impact

Marcellus Protest/CC BY 2.0

I really wonder if when it comes to the environmental impact of natural gas President Obama or his advisors actually keep up with the latest research.

On Friday the President proudly announced a new fracking oversight group, to in the words of Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate, writing on the White House blog:

Ensure that we can successfully tap this critical resource for decade to come, we must develop it safely and responsibly, taking full advantage of the opportunity while also giving American families and communities the confidence that our air and water are safe.

Zichal also notes that the President,

...has made clear that he believes this important, abundant domestic resource holds unique promise to fuel our energy sector, fuel our vehicles, as well as fuel job growth, all while reducing harmful emissions.

Since the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking just happened, this executive order comes at a very appropriate time.

Let's back our way into this.

"All while reducing harmful emissions": Well, the latest research shows that while natural gas does produce lower emissions than coal when used for electricity generation, the reductions are lower than generally thought, due to methane leakage primarily. And when natural gas is extracted via fracking there very well may be no emissions reduction whatsoever, based on the full life-cycle of extracting the natural gas.

"Fuel our vehicles": The same research I mentioned above shows that, unless methane leakage is dramatically reduced, switching to natural gas vehicles from oil actually may increase greenhouse gas emissions, largely because of greater radiative forcing.

Other research shows that, when it comes to preventing climate change, natural gas will actually increase emissions, and that to have any chance of slowing warming natural gas simply isn't an option—instead we need a rapid expansion of renewable energy sources.

"This important, abundant domestic resource": Brian debunked the President's overstatement of the US supply of natural gas back in January, when Obama first went on his all-the-above energy policy tear.

Brian cited Slate:

The claim of a 100-year supply originated with a report released in April 2011 by the Potential Gas Committee, an organization of petroleum engineers and geoscientists. President and Chairman Larry Gring works with Third Day Energy LLC, a company based in Austin, Texas, that is engaged in acquiring and exploiting oil and gas properties along the Texas Gulf Coast. Chairman of the Board Darrell Pierce is a vice president of DCP Midstream LLC, a natural-gas production, processing, and marketing company based in Denver. The report's contributors are from the industry-supported Colorado School of Mines. In short, the Potential Gas Committee report is not an impartial assessment of resources.

And then there's the USGS's consistent revision of the amount of natural gas that we can likely extract via fracking. Referring the hotly contested Marcellus Shale, last August USGS said there was actually 80% less extractable natural gas than we thought.

Here's the executive order creating the Interagency Working Group to Support Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources.

Responsible development of unconventional domestic natural gas? While additional and consistent federal oversight may help with safety concerns, from the perspective of environmental protection and climate change mitigation, there really is no responsible fracking—even though it looks like more fracking is essentially inevitable at this point, as is catastrophic climate change.

Another way, there may be foreign policy or strategic domestic political reasons to develop unconventional natural gas resources in the United States, but trying to claim any environmental benefit for this course of action just doesn't stand up.

Tags: Barack Obama | Fracking | Natural Gas

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