Shale gas: the new energy hope or massive global warming…?

Shale gas… A new and untapped sustainable energy source for future generations or a disasterous enterprise which is 20% worse than coal and which will raise global temperature by 3.5C degrees?

Cornell University research…

Robert Howarth – Shale gas & methane

‘US researchers found that shale gas wells leak substantial amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This makes its climate impact worse than conventional gas, they say – and probably worse than coal as well.

“Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon, and is comparable over 100 years,” they write in a paper to be published shortly in the journal Climatic Change.

“We have produced the first comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas,” said lead author Robert Howarth from Cornell University in Ithaca, US.

“We have used the best available data [and] the conclusion is that shale gas may indeed be quite damaging to global warming, quite likely as bad or worse than coal,” he told BBC News.’

And another article citing different (but related research)…

‘Natural gas is not the “panacea” to solve climate change that fossil fuel industry lobbyists have been claiming, according to new research from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Gas is likely to make up about one-quarter of the world’s energy supply by 2035, according to the study, but that would lead the world to a 3.5C temperature rise. At such a level, global warming could run out of control, deserts would take over in southern Africa, Australia and the western US, and sea level rises could engulf small island states.

Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA, told a press conference in London: “While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables and nuclear, particularly in the wake of Fukushima. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change.”

At the end of page 9 of the Cornell University research paper, there is a very clear and very disturbing piece of information…

‘…methane emissions of only 2% to 3% make the GHG (green house gas) footprint of conventional gas worse than oil and coal. Our estimates for fugitive shale-gas emissions are 3.6 to 7.9%.’

Essentially, their research, based on very conservative data, suggests that even at the very low end of methane* emissions from the process of extracting (the main source of leaks – drill out of wells and flow-back of fluids) and delivering standard gas, this energy source is worse than coal and oil – themselves already known to be the worst possible type of energy sources in terms of green house gas emissions.

If the estimates of a 3.9% to 7.9% range of emissions is correct, this obviously makes shale gas far, far worse than any other fuel source.

* Methane (AKA natural gas) is the strongest green house gas (some 25-30 times more potent than CO2), meaning even very small amounts are highly significant.