Methane scare 
is evaporating

Whoops. It looks like another one of those canards raised by some environmental groups about the supposed dangers of hydraulic fracturing associated with gas drilling is losing its scare power.

Methane gas does not appear to be a major pollutant emitted as a result of gas drilling and fracking, according to a new study, the results of which were published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Methane gas, which is believed to be a more potent climate-change pollutant than carbon dioxide, has been red-flagged by a few groups trying to stop natural gas drilling. They use it to counter arguments from natural gas advocates and many conservationists that natural gas is cleaner than coal and less worrisome when it comes to climate change.

“Natural gas is also a major threat to our climate,” claims the Sierra Club website. “Total greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas are nearly identical to coal, once methane leakage is taken into account.”

The website of a group called Frack Attack argues, “Fracking-enabled oil and gas development leaks methane at every step from extraction to transport.”

The study conducted by the University of Texas and released this week doesn’t say drilling and fracking for natural gas is methane-free. However, it does state that testing done by the researchers shows the process does not emit the immense amounts of methane gas that some people had feared.

As the Associated Press article in The Daily Sentinel Tuesday noted, even one of the first scientists to raise concerns about potentially large amounts of methane emissions called the results of the study “good news.”

Some fracking critics will no doubt pooh-pooh the study because it was paid for in large part by energy companies, even though the Environmental Defense Fund also helped pay for it and the scientists involved said they controlled how the research was performed, and where.

Others may note that some previous studies have showed higher levels of methane emissions at some well sites, but that is an argument for better operating procedures and monitoring, not for halting drilling and fracking altogether.

Natural gas remains a critical commodity to help this country meet our energy needs in a cost-effective manner and to continue to reduce our emissions of CO2, as we have been doing for at least five years.

Equally important, for Americans sick of seeing this country get drawn into every Middle Eastern border clash and civil war, natural gas is critical to moving our nation further away from dependence on oil from that troubled region.

There are potential environmental hazards associated with drilling and fracking, but they can be controlled. And in the case of methane, those hazards now appear far less worrisome than some folks have led us to believe.


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As today’s Daily Sentinel editorial (“Methane scare evaporating”) suggests, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) may be “safer” – at least as to uncontrolled methane releases – than ardent environmentalists have contended.  However, to dismiss the concerns of anti-fracking activists as a “canard” grossly overstates the conclusiveness of the cited study.  Nevertheless, it is indeed refreshing that the debate is now being informed by scientific evidence.

Meanwhile, Dennis Webb’s accompanying report (“Energy firm fined $50,000 for pit violations at fatality site”) clearly suggests that oil & gas operations aren’t nearly as “safe” as “some folks have led us to believe”, that the industry still cannot be trusted to voluntarily control the many “potential environmental hazards associated with drilling and fracking” and/or to comply with existing rules, and thus that rigorous enforcement of common-sense evidence-based regulations remains imperative.

As Dennis Webb likewise reported (“Gas drillers leery of redrawn maps for protection of wildlife”), the oil & gas industry continues to resist common-sense regulations based on scientific evidence pertinent to its legal responsibility to minimize impacts on wildlife.  Thus, it is premature to allow the “good news” about methane to induce complacency.

Moreover, the Daily Sentinel remains increasingly remiss in failing to call for repeal of the so-called “Halliburton Exception” to the Safe Drinking Water Act – which legally exempts “fracking” from the stricter regulatory scrutiny to which it would otherwise be legally subjected if properly regulated as “underground injection wells”.

Every time the industry touts its “safety” – and every time scientific evidence lends some credence to such assertions – the rationale for exempting “fracking” from long-standing and well-established environmental laws (including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts) becomes less convincing.

And, as anecdotal evidence continues to accumulate that self-serving industry assertions merit less deference than claimed, the rationale for ending fracking’s dubiously unique exemptions becomes more compelling.

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