Fracking and the Environmental Impact

Fracking and the Environmental Impact


Scientist and environmentalists strongly advise taking: “The precautionary principle”. The precautionary principle risk management states that: if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.

 Report in Nature magazine 16 October 2014

Increase in FRACKING will increase CO2 due to decrease in global price and increase in uptake of gas

A recent study published in the journal Nature has concluded that the growing use of natural gas will result in an overall increase in global carbon dioxide emissions – rather than the decrease claimed by some analysts.

“… increasing the supply of natural gas will also have an effect on the energy markets,” scientist Nico Bauer, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Al Jazeera. “There is also a scale effect that additional supply will reduce prices and increase demand of natural gas.”

“We found that additional natural supply will lead to more natural gas use, but coal consumption will only be reduce partially and therefore we may expect to see an increase in CO2 emissions and an acceleration of climate change,” said Bauer.


…a growing body of research suggests that the hidden methane and carbon footprint of natural gas fracking is likely to exacerbate, rather than reduce, the growing threats from climate change.

Moreover, the increasing extraction of unconventional fossil fuels from remote locations (e.g. global shale formations, tar sands, heavy crude, coal seams, deep offshore wells, & the Arctic) through fracking portends the dawn of a new Third Carbon Era, an epoch that will not only lead to further climate destabilization, but also continue our dependency on hydrocarbons into the next century.

Natural gas produces only ½ the CO2 of coal and only 1/3 that of oil – but 86-105 X more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas over a 20 yr time frame.  Natural gas currently accounts for 21% of global fossil fuel-generated C02. As much as 8% of the methane in shale gas wells leak—up to 2X more than escapes from conventional natural gas production

Well-to-consumer lifecycle greenhouse-gas footprint of shale gas is worse than coal or oil over

20 yrs. & = to coal/oil over 100 yrs. (Howarth & Ingraffea 2011).

Despite the bridge cliché, there’s been almost no effort to model a natural gas bridge in a climate scenario that stabilizes CO2 between 450-550 ppm and includes a temporary rise and

subsequent decline in natural gas consumption (Levi 2013).

Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure 

If as little as 3 % of the methane produced escapes, you might as well be burning coal, from a climate perspective (Ramón A. Alvareza et al 2011). If methane emissions from wellhead to electrical generating plants or your burner tip were at 1 % — hard to believe, but let’s say it’s the case — that makes methane better than coal. But from a climate change perspective, “better than coal” is not good enough. And slightly better than coal is absurd.



The CO2 budget


In order to have even a 75 % chance to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (averting high risks of extremely dangerous and irreversible climate impacts, such as sea level rise, habitat destruction and extreme weather), then we must keep total CO2 emissions from 2015-2050 under about 440 Gigatonnes (Gt, or one trillion kilograms). (Schellnhuber, Hans J. et al.)

It turns out that CO2 emissions from burning all the “conventional” natural gas alone would add 794 Gt CO2 – over three times the 240 Gt CO2 left in the “budget” for natural gas. Using U.S. Energy Information Association estimates, global sources of unconventional natural gas (i.e., shale gas, tight gas and coalbed methane, which require extensive fracking) would amount to about 5600 Gt CO2, if it is all burned. That’s over 23 times the emissions left in the budget for natural gas! In other words (assuming no conventional gas) almost all “technically recoverable” natural gas (about 22/23rds of it!) needs to stay underground.

The Tyndall Centre Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts

While being promoted as a transition route to a low carbon future, none of the available evidence

indicates that this is likely to be the case. It is difficult to envisage any situation other than shale gas largely being used in addition to other fossil fuel reserves and adding a further carbon burden. This could lead to an additional 11ppmv of CO2 over and above expected levels without shale gas.

There is little to suggest that shale gas will play a key role as a transition fuel in the move to a low carbon economy. Measured across their respective lifecycles the CO2 emissions from shale gas are likely to be only marginally higher than those from conventional gas sources. Nevertheless, there is little evidence from data on the US that shale gas is currently, or expected to, substitute, at any significant level for coal use. By contrast, projections suggest it will continue to be used in addition to

coal in order to satisfy increasing energy demand. If carbon emissions are to reduce in line with the Copenhagen Accord’s commitment to 2°C, urgent decarbonisation of electricity supply is required.

Large scale extraction of shale gas cannot be reconciled with the climate change commitments enshrined in the Copenhagen Accord (2009). Irrespective of whether UK shale gas substitutes for coal,

renewables or imported gas, the industry’s latest reserve estimates for just one licence area could  account for up to 15% of the UK’s emissions budget through to 2050. Therefore, emissions from a fully developed UK shale gas industry would likely be very substantial in their own right.

“Pursuing shale gas electricity risks displacing urgently required investments in genuinely low carbon energy supply.” (Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change Tyndall Manchester)

Price Waterhouse Cooper

PwC released its Low Carbon Economy Index 2013 last week. It confirms that we will reach the tipping point for climate destabilization by 2034 unless we end our fossil fuel addiction



Howarth, Robert W. and Anthony Ingraffea. 2011. “Should Fracking Stop? Nature 477: 271- 273.


Levi, Michael. 2013. “Climate Consequences of Natural Gas a Bridge Fuel.” Climate Change 118: 609-623.


Schellnhuber, Hans J. et al. German Advisory Council on Global Change. “World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability.” 2011 at 114.


Ramón A. Alvareza,1, Stephen W. Pacalab,1, James J. Winebrakec, William L. Chameidesd, and Steven P. Hamburge. Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure


Ruth Wood Paul Gilbert  Maria Sharmina Kevin Anderson. Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts. (2011)


Low Carbon Economy Index 2015 | Conscious uncoupling? Price Waterhouse Cooper

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