A well head after all the fracking equipment has been removed. (Joshua Doubek photo)

Science Matters: A fracas over fracking

Fracked gas heats the planet, but supporters say it’s a solution

The best way to address climate disruption is… burn more fossil fuels? It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what industry, media and governments want us to believe.

To profit as much as possible from fossil fuels before markets fall under the weight of climate chaos and better alternatives, industry and its allies tell us fracked gas is a climate solution. It’s not.

A new study shows it’s as bad as or worse for the climate than other fossil fuels. Cornell University researchers found alarming increases in atmospheric methane since 2008 can likely be pinned on the U.S. shale oil and gas boom.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for one-quarter of current global heating. It only stays in the atmosphere for about 12 years before it breaks down and gets reabsorbed into natural systems, but it causes a lot of damage while it’s there.

It traps heat at a rate close to 85 times higher than carbon dioxide over 20 years. CO2 not absorbed by vegetation and oceans—where it causes acidification and other problems—can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Methane is produced by biogenic (plant- and animal-based) sources, including tropical wetlands, rotting organic waste, cow burps and pig manure.

It’s also produced by leaks and “flaring” during fossil fuel development, especially fracking.

Although some question the Cornell findings, arguing that the methane spike is mainly from biogenic sources, Cornell professor Robert Howarth maintains methane emissions from the (mostly fracked) natural gas industry are much higher than industry and government report.

Research by the David Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University found that’s the case in B.C. Other researchers conclude methane emissions are underreported in Alberta.

Howarth argues that because methane from fracked gas, like plant and animal methane, is lighter than gas from other fossil fuel development, some emissions attributed to biogenic sources likely come from fracking.

He concludes that “shale-gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased [methane] emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade.”

According to a Vox article, the U.S. is responsible for 89 per cent of shale gas production, with Canada making up the rest—and the industry is expanding rapidly, thanks in part to political support.

Because methane only remains in the atmosphere for a short period but has an enormous impact, reducing or eliminating methane emissions is a quick, effective way to lessen the threat of climate chaos.

As the foundation and others have noted, capturing and selling gas now leaked or flared would be a cost-effective solution.

But the inordinate amount of power the fossil fuel industry holds over many governments means there’s little appetite to even admit there’s a problem, let alone solve it.

The U.S. government is reversing regulation of methane leaks from oil and gas—something industry didn’t even ask for!

Canada isn’t much better.

Although the federal and B.C. governments have promised stronger regulations around oil and gas industry methane emissions, they’re committed to massive industry expansion.

Research has also found the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, the industry regulator, often puts fossil fuel interests ahead of the public’s.

In a report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ben Parfitt found industry faced no consequences after building dozens of illegal waste-containment dams in northeastern B.C.—one as high as a seven-storey building—without filing any plans.

The commission held a report for four years that showed gas wells leaking and contaminating groundwater, releasing it only after it was given to a journalist.

The commission sat on another report for four years that showed companies were violating rules designed to protect caribou and habitat.

Fracking causes numerous other problems, from earthquakes to water depletion and contamination—even health issues including birth defects, cancer and asthma.

Renewable energy is cost-effective, efficient and comes with far fewer pollution and climate problems than all fossil fuel energy.

The solution to fossil-fuelled climate chaos is to burn less, not more.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor and writer Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CFB Comox military police are looking for help into store theft

Police want to identify two individuals they think might have information

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event at Sid Williams Plaza was part of province-wide event on Friday

Buy a Valley Vonka bar, support a good Comox Valley cause

All proceeds go to support YANA, and you might even win a golden ticket

One person dead in two-vehicle accident near Courtenay

Highway 19A was closed for several hours following the crash

Long-term care need pressuring acute care in Comox Valley, Strathcona

Region could use a couple of large facilities for seniors on the north part of the Island

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Courtenay event protesting old-growth logging part of a province-wide rally

Similar rallies in communities throughout B.C. on Sept. 18

Comox Valley Beefs & Bouquets, week of Sept. 15

Beef to the gnome thief; bouquet to dental hygienists

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Application deadline for fish harvester benefits program extended

Those financially impacted by the pandemic have until Oct. 5 to apply

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Most Read