Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Fracked Gas is Worse than Coal

Josh Fox and Lee Zeische were arrested protesting fracked gas storage in salt caverns under Seneca Lake. Photo courtesy of ‘We Are Seneca Lake.’

Josh Fox and Lee Zeische were arrested protesting fracked gas storage in salt caverns under Seneca Lake. Photo courtesy of ‘We Are Seneca Lake.’

By Josh Fox and Lee Ziesche

A duplicitous and dangerous shift in energy is unfolding across our country. As part of the Obama Administration’s climate plan, coal-fired power plants are being taken offline, which is fantastic- but in many cases the proposal is to replace them with natural gas power plants, a truly terrible idea that will force us to frack for decades. We need to replace both coal and gas with truly renewable energy- the wind and the sun. But unfortunately Obama’s climate plan is a form of fossil fuel denial, it’s out of the coal fire and into the fracked gas frying pan.

Replacing coal with fracked-gas fired power plants is not a climate solution; it’s a desperate attempt for the fossil fuel industry to extend its deadly stranglehold on our energy system. Faced with overwhelming science that proves continuing to burn fossil fuels will cause catastrophic climate change, the industry’s new strategy to avoid extinction is to greenwash dirty fossil fuels.

The fracking PR machine has been feverishly peddling natural gas as a clean source of energy. They’ve made up the term “bridge fuel,” claiming we can’t get from coal to renewables without fracked natural gas acting as a bridge.

Let’s be clear, when it comes to our energy future, there are two diverging paths and there is no bridge between them.

The industry likes to tout the fact that when burned, natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal. That’s true, but they fail to mention that methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, is also leaking at scary rates from every part of production and delivery which negates any climate benefit.

The reason is that methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas it is 86 to 105 times more powerful a warming agent over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide. And 33 times more potent over 100 years.

So that means that if there is greater than two to three% leakage, fracking is no better than coal. A little over three%, it’s worse than coal.

So is it leaking that badly? Yep. And there are a whole host of peer-reviewed studies to prove it across the board. In the Uinta Basin in Utah, scientists found leakage rates in natural gas fields were a whopping six to 12%. NOAA researchers in Colorado found leakage rates of four percent over gas fields, and that doesn’t include additional leakage in pipeline and distribution systems.

And yet another NOAA study done in L.A. basin found leakage rates at an astonishing 17%.

Switching from coal to gas is like saying “don’t smoke cigarettes they are bad for you, here smoke this cigar instead and wash it down with some contaminated water and go ahead, share it with everyone in town,” because as bad as fracking is for the big climate picture, it’s even worse on local environments and communities.

Air pollution, water contamination, heavy truck traffic and earthquakes are just par for the course when it comes to fracking. Right now 15 million Americans within one mile of a fracking well and many more are being put at risk with expansion of fracked gas infrastructure like pipelines, gas storage, compressor stations, power plants and liquefied natural gas ports. This is infrastructure that will lock us in to decades more of heading down the wrong path.

Here’s the good part of this problem: there is a solution. We have the technology to run our country on 100% renewable energy, and it’s only getting more affordable, but we must come together as communities and demand a renewable-energy, not fracked-gas, future.

True energy independence isn’t foreign multi-national corporations, fracking and poisoning American communities. Energy independence is Americans making their own energy on their rooftops and community buildings. We can take back our power, as we take back our power.

There are very powerful and wealthy forces that are trying to force us down the wrong path, but working with the anti-fracking movement across the world, we’ve seen something more powerful – organized communities. It’s time for the president who was elected by a grassroots movement to pay attention to the grassroots movement of citizens and scientists who are standing up and saying no to a fracked future.

Josh Fox is an American film director and environmental activist, best known for his Oscar-nominated documentary, Gasland. He is one of the most prominent public opponents of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. A street is named after him in Aujac, France, a region where the French anti-shale-gas movement was born. Lee Ziesche is the Gasland grassroots coordinator.

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