Frack Gas is Greenhouse Gas (GHG), Almost Entirely Methane (CH4)

by admin on September 9, 2022

Natural gas use will not solve the climate crisis

Methane: The elephant in the room when it comes to climate change

Article in the public interest by Randi Pokladnik, Tappan Lake, OH, on September 7, 2022

Although carbon dioxide receives most of the attention in the climate crisis discussion, emissions of methane gas play a major role in the warming of the planet. Scientists tell us that methane has over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. The methane molecule is much more capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. If we have any hope of curbing the effects of the climate crisis, we must address both methane and carbon dioxide emissions in this decade.

The methane molecule is a carbon atom attached to four hydrogen atoms via single bonds. It is colorless, odorless, and highly flammable. Sources of global man-made methane emissions include: natural gas and oil processes 32%, cattle enteric fermentation 27%, landfills 17%, manure 9%, coal mining 6%, and other 9%.

Scientists tell us that methane from human actions is responsible for 25 percent of global warming and that at no time since 1980 have methane emissions risen faster than they are currently. For years, the amount of methane emitted by the fossil fuel industry has been underestimated by the US EPA. A study of methane using ground instruments as well as satellites shows that oil and gas development emits about 13 million metric tons of methane a year: enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes or two billion dollars’ worth. The study “measured methane levels in the air around natural gas wells, storage tanks, refineries, and underground pipes feeding gas to people’s homes in key gas-producing regions in states including Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, and Arkansas.”

There are many locations in the high pressure hydraulic fracking process where fugitive emissions of methane are escaping into the atmosphere. These include: venting and flaring of sub-standard commercial gas at the top of smokestacks, gas venting during compression and storage, gas from wells and pipelines emitted during maintenance, and gas leaking from the fractured bedrock. Gas also leaks from homes and businesses. A study published in Geophysical Research Letters found nearly 890,000 tons of methane leaked from homes and businesses along six populated eastern seaboard urban centers in 2018.

The oil and gas industry and many politicians have carefully crafted a narrative around methane’s benefits, including their preferred label: natural gas. A recent study published in the journal Yale Climate Change Communication showed that people felt more positive about terms such as “natural gas” rather than fracked gas or fossil fuel gas. Even the Obama Administration referred to methane gas as a “bridge fuel”, a fuel that would carry us from coal to renewables someday. They justified the expansion of fracking to access this “bridge fuel.”

Why invest in a “bridge fuel” to replace coal when this fuel is also adding to greenhouse gas emissions? Renewable energy has proven it can power the world’s energy needs. “With the decreasing costs of wind and solar, and increased costs of building fossil gas plants along with needed infrastructure, gas plants are increasingly uneconomic to build, let alone run.”

The recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will provide significant funding for carbon capture technology (CCS). This technology has not proven to be successful in removing carbon dioxide at the levels promised and does nothing to address methane emissions. The IRA does propose increasing a fee on methane emissions from $900 a metric ton to $1500 a metric ton by 2024, however, this fee only applies to sources emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of methane a year. This means small-scale emitters will get a free pass. Financing an unproven technology shows that the USA is not serious about addressing climate change or moving away from fossil fuels.

Additionally, gas transmission facilities will only pay fees for methane emissions that exceed 0.11% of the total amount of gas the facility sends for sale. Gas gathering, storage, and liquid natural gas facilities will only pay for methane emissions that exceed 0.05% of the total amount of gas sent for sale. The charge will not apply to any emissions from natural gas distribution facilities.

American citizens are now being left with the bill to clean up another mess courtesy of 170 years of oil and gas development. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency have revealed there are over 2 million unplugged, inactive oil and gas wells. The Environmental Defense Fund has documented and located 81,000 “orphan wells” across 28 states. A better label for these wells would be “abandoned wells” as these wells once belonged to an oil and gas company but, when productivity dropped, the wells were abandoned and left unplugged. Today, nearly 9 million people live within a mile of a documented “orphan well”. In addition to leaking methane gas, the wells also are leaking toxic chemicals such as the carcinogenic compound: benzene.

“A recent report by Carbon Tracker estimates closure costs to be anywhere from $78 billion to $280 billion.” The task will not be easy. “These days, some abandoned wells have metal casings intact. But others were stripped of metal during World War II, making them hard to find. Still others were constructed from wood that rotted away and left only a hole in the ground.”

Unfortunately, the Ohio River Valley is inundated with abandoned wells. On the West Virginia side, maps of Marshall, Tyler, Pleasants, Ritchie, Wetzel, Wood and Doddridge counties are covered with unplugged well locations. Ohio counties like Athens, Monroe, Washington and Meigs have many wells, as do counties in our area: Harrison, Carroll, and Guernsey.

If you have a gas stove you too are adding to the methane releases and could be exposing your family to toxic emissions. Using a 20-year timeframe, the methane emissions from all gas stoves in the USA have a climate impact equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 500,000 cars. Gas stoves also emit toxic nitrogen oxides which can trigger respiratory diseases. Results of a recent study show levels of radon gas, a gas responsible for lung cancer, are significantly higher in homes supplied with natural gas.

Sadly, the heating climate is triggering a dangerous event in the Tundra and below the sea floor. Permafrost found in these locations is melting and releasing methane hydrates. These hydrates are tiny bubbles of methane gas that have been frozen for millions of years in ice crystals. As the temperature of the planet increases, the ice trapping the methane melts, releasing the molecules. Once the methane gas reaches the atmosphere, it will be slowly oxidized to carbon dioxide, and add to the atmospheric carbon budget.

Scientists are sounding the alarm that we must also address methane emissions in order to curb atmospheric heating. To date, the USA along with over 120 countries have signed a Global Methane Pledge which seeks to reduce methane emissions and flaring. The Energy Information Administration data shows that in one year, the U.S. wastes roughly $1 billion worth of gas during flaring operations. In addition to wasting gas, flaring causes noise and light pollution and releases dangerous volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter called carbon black.

The Department of Interior has awarded $560 million from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to begin “plugging, capping and reclaiming” oil and gas wells in 24 states including Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Plugging oil and gas wells will in many cases provide good union jobs, but what remains to be seen is just how many wells can successfully be plugged and how fast this can be accomplished. Plugging wells, taxing methane emissions and making pledges are a first step in curbing this dangerous greenhouse gas. However, as I see the gas flares from local oil and gas infrastructure lighting up the night sky across Tappan Lake, I remain skeptical as to the sincerity of our leaders and the fossil fuel industry to significantly reduce methane emissions.


See also: Democracy Unchained ~ Democracy vs. Fossil Fuels

Today, the project includes the March 2020 publication of Unchained Democracy, and a conversation series of the same name, that launched in September 2020. The project also brings together partners from across the country, in a variety of disciplines, all focused on rebuilding the American government for the People.

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