New research on "alarmingly high methane emissions" brings further environmental scrutiny to natural gas extraction including fracking, and illustrates how the boom in the industry may well be a plan for climate disaster.
The findings, led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), were presented at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, the journal Nature reports, and reiterated data the team first noted in February of 2012 that 4% of the methane produced at a field near Denver was escaping into the atmosphere. The team also presented preliminary findings from a Utah study that suggested an even higher rate of methane emissions—9% of the total production.
NOAA describes methane as 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than CO2.
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"We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see," says Colm Sweeney, who led the aerial component of the study as head of the aircraft program at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder.
Jeff Tollefson explains in Nature that the percentage of methane leaked is key to determining whether switching to natural gas from coal-fired generators has a climate benefit; it must be less than 3.2% for that to be the case, he writes.
The Obama administration has embraced fracking as part of its "all-of-the-above" energy strategy.