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'Bridge to Climate Chaos': New Report Details Urgent Need for Total US Fracking Ban

"Unless we ban fracking, these terrifying climate trends will intensify."

Anti-fracking demonstrators hold a banner and signs

In February of 2017, legislation to impose a statewide, permanent fracking ban was introduced in the Maryland Senate. (Photo: Food & Water Watch/Facebook)

A new report out Monday challenges the fossil fuel industry narrative that fracked gas is a "bridge fuel," calling its development instead a path towards planetary destruction and an obstacle to achieving a renewables-based energy system.

Released by Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Food and Water Watch, the analysis is entitled "Fracking's Bridge to Climate Chaos: Exposing the Fossil Fuel Industry's Deadly Spin" (pdf).

"This new research makes one thing absolutely clear," said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. "Unless we ban fracking, these terrifying climate trends will intensify."

Among the problems with fracking is that it's responsible for gas leaks at "every stage of the sprawling natural gas network," including wellhead bases, underground storage facilities and compressor stations, processing plants, and end stages such as liquified natural gas (LNG) export ports and industrial plants.

That's bad news for the climate because the leaks include methane—a potent greenhouse gas that can also help create the ground-level pollutant ozone.

"Methane leaks in the 2.4 to 3.2 percent range are likely to completely neutralize any purported climate benefits of natural gas used in place of coal for electricity generation," says the report. It references research from Cornell University that found a 3.5 percent leak rate for shale gas production.

The report also notes that fracked natural gas does not just go towards electricity production but also to plastics generation. Plastics production was responsible in 2015 for nearly 4 percent of global emissions. As plastics break down, adds the report, they release methane.

Methane leaks aside, the claim of fracked gas serving as bridge towards renewables just doesn't hold water. From the report:

Abundant gas breaks the carbon budget even for the insufficient Paris Agreement climate targets. Long-term projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) find that even with continued fracking, coal's share of generation will stabilize in the 2020s. As coal use stabilizes, large supplies of natural gas will continue to increase carbon emissions.

That abundance means fracked gas is standing in the way of renewables, says the report.

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Since fossil fuels and renewables compete to provide energy, gas supplies depress the production of renew-able energy. A 2017 study found that low natural gas prices shifted investment from wind power to gas turbines, which resulted in 6 percent higher average emissions, and solar power companies blame fracking for stifling domestic projects.

But achieving a transition to 100 percent renewables is both necessary and doable, says the report, and just relying on the fossil fuel industry to commit to voluntary measures or calling for band-aid approaches won't get the nation there.

"Regulated fracking still results in public health impacts, accidental spills of toxic waste, air pollution, earthquakes, drinking water contamination, and unavoidable methane leaks that fuel climate change," says the report.

The report also issues a number of recommendations:

  • Instituting a national ban on fracking and its associated activities, such as frack sand mining and waste disposal that support the practice;
  • Shutting down dangerous infrastructure that props up the fracking and fossil fuel industries and stopping fossil fuel exports and the construction of infrastructure to support these exports;
  • Restricting the sale of plastic products that prop up the oil and gas industry;
  • Transitioning to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030 through investment in a New Deal-scale green energy public works program that fosters a rapid transition to real, zero-emission clean energy like solar and wind, accompanied by wide-scale deployment of energy efficiency.

"If we are serious about clean air and drinking water, if we are serious about combating climate change, the only safe and sane way to move forward is to ban fracking nationwide."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
The organization's first proposal got a boost last week after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation to ban on- and offshore fracking by 2025.

The measure, which has Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) as a co-sponsor, calls out the health impacts of communities on the frontlines of fracking and says "hydraulic fracturing is not in the national interest of the United States." 

Sanders, in response to the new Food & Water Watch publication, said: "Fracking is a danger to our water supply. It's a danger to the air we breathe, it has resulted in more earthquakes, and it's highly explosive. To top it all off, it’s contributing to climate change."

"This should be a no-brainer," he continued. "If we are serious about clean air and drinking water, if we are serious about combating climate change, the only safe and sane way to move forward is to ban fracking nationwide."

Not taking that step, said Hauter, is a path to more climate chaos.

"Fracked gas is not a bridge to a cleaner future," she said, "it is a foolish perpetuation of the very dangerous fossil fuel status quo."

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