The United States is a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions – a feat that is directly attributable to increased production and use of clean-burning natural gas.
You’ve probably heard environmental activists attack hydraulic fracturing (fracking) because they say it worsens climate change. But like so much of the anti-fossil fuel “Keep It In the Ground” campaign, what they are saying has no basis in science or evidence.
Think that’s spin? Then don’t just take our word for it.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), widely regarded as the definitive voice on global warming, affirmed the climate benefits of natural gas in its 2014 Fifth Assessment Report, including the important role that fracking has played:
“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas (IEA, 2012b); this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has also credited natural gas for helping the United States be among the world leaders in reducing emissions:
“The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3%, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6%. The decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and more attractive renewable power that displaced coal. Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has shown how the carbon dioxide emissions savings we’ve gotten from increased natural gas use is about 63 percent greater than what we’ve saved by using so-called “non-carbon” energy sources, like renewables. Since 2005, natural gas has prevented over two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted.
SOURCE: U.S. EIA, September 2018
But what about methane? Environmentalists love to talk about leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 30 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. If enough methane leaks, it would presumably make natural gas worse for the climate than other major fuel options. Unsurprisingly, the Keep It In the Ground campaign claims leakage rates are way above that threshold, and thus the only solution is – surprise! – ban fracking now.
Once again, they’re wrong.
Scientists have estimated that methane leakage rates from natural gas development – production through end use – must remain below 3.2 percent for the fuel to maintain its climate edge. Multiple peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that leakage rates are indeed far below that 3.2 percent threshold, and data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show low leakage rates across the United States.
The IEA has also affirmed the climate benefits of natural gas, even taking into account methane leakage:
“Despite these issues, taking into account our estimates of methane emissions from both gas and coal, on average, gas generates far fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal when generating heat or electricity, regardless of the timeframe considered.”
Even better, data from the U.S. EPA show that methane emissions from onshore oil and natural gas production declined by nearly 14 million metric tons between 2011 and 2016.
By unlocking an abundant and low-cost fuel like natural gas, the fracking revolution has been a clear winner for the economy, our national security, and the climate.