Tag Archives: shale gas

Fracking causes massive surge in methane emissions

Among greenhouse gasses, methane is now the second most important one causing climate change. Its expansion in the last few years can be linked to the larger development of shale gas and shale oil, according to a new study based on chemical fingerprints.

Credit: Flickr

The research, published in the journal Biogeosciences, reports that methane released from the exploitation of shale gas and oil a different carbon-13/carbon-12 ratio than conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels such as coal, which serves as a chemical signature of sorts.

This carbon-13 signature means that since the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) shale gas has greatly contributed to the global release of methane into the atmosphere, according to the paper’s author, Robert Howarth.

The level of methane in the atmosphere had previously risen during the last two decades of the 20th century but tapered in the first decade of the 21st century. Then, they increased dramatically from 2008–14 due to global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

“This recent increase in methane is massive,” Howarth said. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen, and shale gas is a major player.”

While it increased in the atmosphere, the carbon composition of the methane has also changed. Methane from biological sources such as cows and wetlands have low carbon-13 content — compared to methane from most fossil fuels. Previous studies erroneously concluded that biological sources are the cause of the rising methane, Howarth said.

About two-thirds of all new gas production over the last decade has been shale gas produced in the United States and Canada. Global shale-gas production has exploded 14-fold, from 31 billion cubic meters per year in 2005 to 435 billion cubic meters per year in 2015.

Unlike carbon dioxide, the climate system responds quickly to changes in methane emissions and reducing methane emissions could provide an opportunity to immediately slow the rate of global warming and meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit the temperature increase to 2ºC.

“If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate,” Howarth said. “It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

UK to allow fracking companies to use ‘any substance’ under homes, despite 99% public opposition

A new proposed amendment in the UK would make a mockery of existing European shale gas regulation. If the new regulation would pass, it would allow fracking companies to put “any substance” under people’s homes and property and leave it there, as part of the Infrastructure Bill. The wording of the bill would also allow storing nuclear waste.

Image credits: Rob Brooks.

Europe has much stricter regulations than the US, and the UK has long bragged that they have the best shale gas regulation in all of Europe. But apparently, the UK wants to take steps to “kickstart” shale gas exploration in the country. The government said the changes were “vital to kickstarting shale” gas exploration. However, the opposition claims that this law is preposterous and would cause massive environmental and social problems.  Simon Clydesdale, a campaigner at Greenpeace UK declared:

“Ministers are effectively trying to absolve fracking firms from responsibility for whatever mess they’ll end up leaving underground. This amendment makes a mockery of the government’s repeated claims about Britain’s world-class fracking regulations. Far from toughening up rules, ministers are bending over backwards to put the interests of shale drillers before the safety of our environment and our climate.”

[Also Read: Shale gas isn’t a ‘clean bridge fuel’, study finds]

The law permits “passing any substance through, or putting any substance into, deep-level land” and gives “the right to leave deep-level land in a different condition from [that before] including by leaving any infrastructure or substance in the land”. Currently, that is viewed by British law as trespassing, and rightfully so. The UK government conducted a survey to see the public opinion on this and the results were evident. There were a total of 40,647 responses to the consultation, and 99% opposed this change. Now, it has to be said that 28,821 responses were submitted as a result of two NGO campaigns, but that still leaves us with almost 12.000 responses, 92% of which were negative. It couldn’t be any clearer – the public is against this. But apparently, that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, as the government seems adamant to push this forth. A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said:

“Shale and geothermal have the potential to bolster our energy security, create jobs and growth and provide a bridge to a greener future. These changes are vital to kick starting shale and make sure it’s not delayed by one single landowner. These new rules are all part of our robust regulatory framework [making] sure public safety is always our number one priority.”

Image via CNN.

This approach, putting the industrial needs above the needs of the individuals has been prevalent throughout the entire mandate of the British government, and has drawn much criticism. Ralph Smyth, a barrister at the Campaign to Protect Rural England is one of the many critics of the amendment:

“This seems another example in the Infrastructure Bill where the rushing to remove obstacles has led to officials making it up as they go along, without thinking through the consequences,” he said. “Powers to alter deep-level land in any way under people’s houses or ‘putting any substance’ under schools or homes is surely going too far.”

Certainly the matter is debatable on both sides, but should a government really push forth with such an unpopular decision? There’s basically a consensus among the British that this measure shouldn’t pass, and yet it seems poised to do so. Something is clearly not going the right way in the UK.

Coal fired power plant in Germany. US policymakers are considering substituting coal for natural gas by 2030 to tackle the warming of the planet. A new study concludes this won't be the case. Photo: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Natural gas does little to curb emissions and mitigate climate change

Coal fired power plant in Germany. US policymakers are considering substituting coal for natural gas by 2030 to tackle the warming of the planet. A new study concludes this won't be the case. Photo: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Coal fired power plant in Germany. US policymakers are considering substituting coal for natural gas by 2030 to tackle the warming of the planet. A new study concludes this won’t be the case. Photo: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Given the shale boom, the United States has now become the world’s leading natural gas producer. Because it only releases 50% as much emissions for the same equivalent amount of energy produced by oil or coal, many have herald it as a cleaner source of fossil energy, whose widespread introduction might help mitigate global warming. A new study found that in the long run, natural gas does little to curb emissions since it would boost consumption (high supply means it will be cheaper) and displace renewable energy.

Natural gas: a poor strategy for mitigating global warming

natural_Gas curb

Photo: Near Zero

Researchers at the UC Irvine, Stanford Univ. and the nonprofit organization Near Zero estimated the natural gas supply curves for the next 40 years, then modeled the the effect of varying natural gas supplies on the U.S. electricity mix, as well as the resulting greenhouse gas emissions under four scenarios: no policy, a moderate carbon tax, a stringent cap on emissions, and a requirement of 50% renewable electricity by 2050.

[ALSO READ] Shale gas isn’t a ‘clean bridge fuel’, study finds

Most of the energy in the US comes coal-fired plants and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a plan to substitute coal with natural gas to lower carbon emissions by 2030.

“In our results, abundant natural gas does not significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is true even if no methane leaks during production and shipping,” says lead author Christine Shearer, a postdoctoral scholar in Earth system science at UC Irvine.

The study also took into account that 1.5 percent of the gas would be lost during production and transport of the fuel, yet even if there were no methane leaks, as opposed to reality, the overall climate benefits of gas are likely to be small since it would discourage renewable energy projects. The only scenario examined in the study, which favored renewable energy under all conditions, was the 50 percent renewable energy mandate by 2050.


Image: Christine Shearer, UC Irvine

All in all, the researchers who described their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters state that relying on natural gas is a poor strategy for cleaning the environment with risks of backfiring.

“Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies. It may be better than eating full-fat cookies, but if you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether,” Steven Davis, assistant professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, said.


global warming chart

The top 7 countries responsible for global warming

A new study published in Environmental Research Letters  ranks the the top seven contributing countries to global warming. Together, these nations account for more than 60 percent of pre-2005 global warming. Before we go on to pointing fingers, it’s important to note that the study incorporates various metrics. This way you can see how each country dumps emissions based on surface size or population. Uniquely, the study  assigns a temperature-change value to each country that reflects its contribution to observed global warming.

Painting a clearer global warming picture

When it comes to global warming, there are seven big contributors: the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and the United Kingdom. Sure, at the moment China is the biggest global warming contributing factor in the world, year after year beating its own emissions record. Definitely not something to boast, but historically speaking however the United States trumps all rankings.

The Concordia University researchers, led by Damon Matthews, an associate professor in the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, used a new methodology to compute the historical global warming trend for each country. Using data from 1750 onward, the team accounted for carbon dioxide contributions from fossil fuel burning and land-use change (deforestation was counted as provoking emissions), along with methane, nitrous oxide and sulphate aerosol emissions. Each type of emission was weighed according to the atmospheric lifetime of the temperature change it caused.

global warming chart

Thus, the U.S. is responsible for a global temperature increase of 0.15 C or close to 20% of all observed warming on the planet. China and Russia account for around eight per cent each; Brazil and India seven per cent; and Germany and the U.K. around five per cent each. Canada comes in tenth place, right after France and Indonesia. While Brazil and Indonesia can’t be considered industrialized countries, their rankings reflect carbon dioxide emissions related to deforestation.

The rich and the poor

When the emissions were scaled to each country’s respective surface areas, Western Europe, the U.S., Japan and India became hugely expanded,  reflecting emissions much greater than would be expected based on their geographic area. China and Russia remained steadfast on their position, suggesting that their historical emissions have been balanced and proportional with their surface size (both countries have immense strips of uninhabitable landmasses at their disposal though). Canada and Australia dropped considerably on this metric, since the countries’ surfaces are much larger than their share of the global warming pie.

Things become more interesting after dividing each country’s climate contribution by its population. Thus the first three global warming contributing countries by population capita are the United States, UK and Canada. In this ranking, China and India drop to the bottom of the list, that numbers 20 greenhouse gas emitting countries. This perspective gives a really nice view on what it really means to be a rich country and what it means to be a poor country. Nowadays, the US has steadily reduced it emissions to 1990s levels thanks to its shale gas boom, cutting coal use. Still, much more needs to be done, and as developing countries massively industrialize to catch up (can you blame them in this current context, considering developed countries are massively responsible for most global warming in the world? Let’s remember Ecuador).

Maybe a more interesting statistic to consider may be that just 90 companies are responsible for 60% of all man-made global warming. List includes: Exxon, Chevron, BP and many more (much oil and gas expected).

France bans fracking – decision is ‘absolute’

France’s ban on hydraulic fracking was completed, with the court upholding a 2011 law which prohibited the practice and cancelled all exploration permits. The decision posted on the court’s website said the ban “conforms to the constitution” and is not “disproportionate,” effectively protecting it from any future legal challenge. In other words, the decision is final (at least for the forseeable future).


U.S. driller Schuepbach Energy brought its complaint to the court after two of its exploration permits were revoked after the ban was first issued. They brought their complaint, argueing that since no study had established fracking risks, there was no cause for the ban, and that since fracking isnt’ banned for geothermal studies, it also shouldn’t be banned for petroleum exploration.

The court didn’t find that convincing enough, citing major differences between using the technique for different purposes; furthermore, they argued, there have been several studies which at the very least put a big question mark on the neutrality of hydraulic fracking.

Environment Minister Philippe Martin marked the decision as a big victory, a part of a larger effort to focus more on renewable energy.

“Beyond the question of fracking, shale gas is a carbon emitter,” he said in a statement. “We must set our priorities on renewable energies.”

Apparently, that’s not just talk. France has some very ambitious goals when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, and they are also considering a tax on carbon emissions and a nuclear tax, with the revenue going to renewables and energy efficiency standards. France plans to cut fossil fuel use by 30 percent by 2030, and at the same time, reduce the impact of nuclear energy, which powers almost a third of the country.

“It’s a judicial victory but also an environmental and political victory,” Martin said. “With this decision the ban on hydraulic fracturing is absolute.”

US Surpasses Russia and Saudi Arabia as World’s Largest Oil and Gas Producer

A new report released by the Energy Information Administration showed that the US will end 2013 as the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia; the US reachged a combined production of 25 million barrels of oil a day (crude oil, natural gas liquid condensates, and biofuels).

An Oklahoma oil well.

An Oklahoma oil well.

Interestingly enough, not many people are truly happy about this (bar big oil company executives) – the US was close to the first place, but only reached it due to the boom in hydraulic fracking; while the technique provides more energy independence for America, the number of people who claim numerous negative consequences continues to grow as well.

U.S. imports of natural gas and crude oil have fallen 32% and 15%, respectively, in the past five years, but even so, the demand for these natural resources continues to grow in the country. But despite these advantages, even the biggest supporters of shale gas drilling concur that shale boom’s longevity could hinge on commodity prices, government regulations and public support; prices will drop, and companies may lower production, which can cause significant problems, even on a global scale. The economic consequences are very hard to estimate.

“It is not a supply question anymore,” he said. “It is about demand and the cost of production. Those are the two drivers.”


Transit buses fueled by natural gas more viable than diesel or electric

Researchers at Purdue University found that a local bus system running on natural gas is more economically feasible and less harmful to the environment than the currently employed diesel model. The team lead by  Purdue University energy economist Wally Tyner also concluded that natural gas is a better fit than electric-hybrid.

compressed_natural_gas_busThe analysis was  was specific to the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corp., also known as CityBus, which operates 72 buses and cares for 30,000 riders daily. The team prompts, however, that their findings can be extended across all bus systems across the country.

The company already runs a couple of diesel-electric hybrid buses which have a higher fuel economy than a standard diesel bus but considerably higher capital expense in the form of higher bus costs. While operation costs can make diesel-hybrid buses feasible in the long run, high capital costs makes the initial investment difficult to make.

“Because of the lower fuel price and pollution reduction, the CNG bus is considered to have good potential as an alternative vehicle used in the public fleet in the United States,” Tyner writes

Purdue researchers found that over the course of 15 years, even with the $2 million expense of building a natural-gas fueling station, the natural-gas system would cost $48 million over the span of the project, compared with $54 million for the diesel-electric and $48.5 million for the diesel-only, according to the report. The analysis takes into account fluctuations in diesel and natural gas prices, operation costs and maintenance.

“Moreover, from the environmental perspective, the implementation of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in the fleet would also produce less emission and provide benefit to the environment of the local society,” the report says.

The  natural-gas option has a 65 percent to 100 percent chance of being lower cost than the diesel option, considering fuel price forecasts. Natural gas has become ever cheaper in recent years mainly due to massive shale gas exploitation. Shale gas production is expected to increase until 2035.

Full report can be viewed here.

New study links high levels arsenic and other contaminants to hydraulic fracking sites

A new study of 100 private water wells in and near the Barnett Shale showed elevated links of contaminants such as arsenic and selenium to fracking sites used for shale gas; the study, which was conducted by UT Arlington associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry Kevin Schug was published in Environmental Science & Technology.

Arsenic map in groundwater in the US.

Arsenic map in groundwater in the US. Via USGS.

The research focused on water samples, and conducted a thorough analysis to identify any potential contaminants. They found several heavy metals (most notably arsenic, barium, selenium and strontium) in the samples; many of them are naturally present in deep lying waters, but the levels were very high – disturbances from natural gas extraction being the likely cause.

“This study alone can’t conclusively identify the exact causes of elevated levels of contaminants in areas near natural gas drilling, but it does provide a powerful argument for continued research,” said Brian Fontenot, a UT Arlington graduate with a doctorate in quantitative biology and lead author on the new paper.

This is a surprisingly unstudied area, mostly because of the secrecy surrounding the fluids injected in the fracking process; the oil companies aren’t exactly known for their transparency either. However, even if slow, things are finally starting to clear out.


“We expect this to be the first of multiple projects that will ultimately help the scientific community, the natural gas industry, and most importantly, the public, understand the effects of natural gas drilling on water quality.”

Researchers didn’t pinpoint a single cause, but rather identify several possibilities, either separated, or working together: “industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings; mechanical vibrations from natural gas drilling activity disturbing particles in neglected water well equipment; or the lowering of water tables through drought or the removal of water used for the hydraulic fracturing process“. Either one of these scenarios could release the dangerous substances in the ground water.

The highest levels of contaminants were found within 3 km of fracking sites, and in several cases, the levels were significantly above the levels currently considered safe by Environmental Protection Agency. For example, 29 wells that were within the study’s active natural gas drilling area exceeded the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Limit of 10 micrograms per liter for arsenic – a point at which it poses health risks.

“Natural gas drilling is one of the most talked about issues in North Texas and throughout the country. This study was an opportunity for us to use our knowledge of chemistry and statistical analysis to put people’s concerns to the test and find out whether they would be backed by scientific data,” said Schug, who is also the Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry in the UT Arlington College of Science.

Via University of Texas Arlington

Fracking accident leaks benzene into Colorado stream

Here we go: once again, Colorado’s fracking boom raised fears that something dangerous will be leaked in the water, and what do you know? Carcinogenic benzene it is!

A plant for fracked natural gas processor Williams Energy, near Parachute, Colo., spilled an estimated 241 barrels of mixed natural gas liquid into the ground, some of which eventually washed as benzene into Parachute Creek.

parachute creek

Two months have passed since the spill was discovered, and one can only wonder why the energy company has been put in charge of the clean-up (when in 60 days, they haven’t done anything), and why the state hasn’t issued any fines.

“I’d like to say they’ve cleaned it up,” said [downstream rancher Sidney] Lindauer on Wednesday, referring to the combined efforts of Williams Midstream and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

But as he says, and as it’s clear for everybody, leaving the clean-up solely in the hands of the company which made the mess is not a good idea.

“We need an independent agency that isn’t associated with the industry, or any industry, to monitor that creek,” he said on Wednesday, lamenting that “they [the CDPHE] pretty much leave it up to Williams.”

He said that aside from the benzene in the water, unexplained layers of dingy, brownish foam showed up on the creek’s surface in recent weeks.

“Sometimes that creek is cloudy and off color, so you know something’s going on,” he concluded, explaining that he gets water for his horses and his pastures from the creek, though his domestic drinking water is from the Town of Parachute’s water system.

So no clean-up, no fines, nothing. Why? Here’s why: the consent order won’t have a fine associated with it “as the release was not due to negligence but to accidental equipment failure,” officials said.

Oh, so it was an accident that leaked benzen into the water. Sorry for asking, fracking company – carry on.

Source and more information on Grist.

Everything you wanted to know about shale gas drilling (but were afraid to ask)

People ask me about shale gas all the time – I guess it goes with being a geologist. As much as this subject interests me and as much as I care about this (and I’m sure you do too), I kind of grows tiring to answer the same questions over and over again; so I wanted to find a great resource, one from which people can get all the needed information, unbiased towards one side or the other – and I did, recently. This presentation by Anthony Ingraffea, PhD does just that. I really recommend it, it should answer most, if not all questions related to shale gas exploration. Dr. Ingraffea’s research concentrates on computer simulation and physical testing of complex fracturing processes, and you can find out more about him from his page.