Anti-fracking protest in Pittsburg, photo: Marcellus Protest/Creative Commons.
Here's the second study of the year showing that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing are much higher than acknowledged. In fact, according to a soon to be published study seen by The Hill, using fracked natural gas results in emissions up to double those of using coal.
"The [greenhouse gas] footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years," states the upcoming study from Howarth, who is a professor of ecology and environmental biology, and other Cornell researchers.
Here's the pre-publication version of the study: Methane and the Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale FormationsRead the original article for more detailed reasons why fracking emissions are so much higher than conventional sources of natural gas--which otherwise compared to coal is a far cleaner-burning source of energy, even if a long way from being carbon-neutral or renewable.
The other study from this year on this there: Back in January a lifecycle analysis of natural gas by the EPA showed that in fracking operations methane emissions were up to 9,000 times higher than previously reported.
So what's the bigger picture, beyond concerns about water supply that continue to hound fracking?
Projections by the EIA show that natural gas obtained by fracking could account for 45% of the US natural gas supply by 2035, an increase of 14% from 2009. In his most recent energy speech, President Obama touted natural gas from shale (he deftly avoided the term 'fracking') as a great and important future source of energy.
In other words, the natural gas touted as a good way to power the US over the coming decades could be worse than using coal and make it much more difficult to cut greenhouse gas emissions more broadly. Especially when you realize how much of the US energy mix goes to transportation: Converting truck fleets to natural gas and electrifying cars may not be the environmental winner it's conventionally thought to be. Not that continuing to run them on oil is any better though.
There's an even broader perspective here too: Much like with the drive to increase the amount of oil produced from unconventional sources like the Alberta tar sands, as the easy to get supplies of fossil fuels get used up those that remain are both more financially costly and environmentally damaging.