Opponents of hydraulic fracturing must know that natural gas is cleaner burning than other major sources of energy. Instead of challenging the huge drop in pollution and greenhouse gases, they charge that so-called fugitive emissions of methane – emissions during the natural gas production-and-distribution process – cancel out the environmental benefits of using natural gas for power generation.
Still, we plan to continue investigating to make sure the public and policymakers have all the facts about the processes that are driving our current energy supply revolution.
As we continue our support for deeper understanding, however, let’s keep in mind a point smartly made last week by Energy in Depth’s Katie Brown, who delved into the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory to see just what has happened to overall methane emissions in recent years as natural gas production from shale has soared.
It turns out that methane emissions have been falling during the shale revolution, and not just by a little. Above is a chart from Brown’s blog post that reveals just how dramatic this drop has been.
Between 2008 and 2012, methane emissions from natural gas systems fell 14.3 percent, as this EPA table from the agency’s inventory shows.
The lion’s share of those gains appears to come from oil and gas producers improving their environmental performance year after year and making their operations more efficient.
That’s not uncommon in our industry; environmental performance typically improves as operators study new processes and learn to make adjustments. The processes used in hydraulic fracturing have become more environmentally friendly in the decade since the fracking era began.
What makes these numbers particularly astounding is that over the same period from 2008 to 2012 as methane emissions declined, natural gas production from America’s shale fields nearly quadrupled. That increase of supplies brought on by the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing helped boost overall natural gas production in the U.S. by about a quarter.
So we have a lot more natural gas – and significantly reduced methane emissions. More reason to celebrate what hydraulic fracturing is doing for our country.