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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fracking and Methane: Response to a Comment

In a Comment to the "Follow-up on Fracking" post below, Reader Chris Johnson calls us to task for not mentioning the methane issue.  This Reader Chris is quite right.  It is an important consideration.  If fracked gas wells and/or pipes have leaks, methane will escape.   Methane is the main chemical component of "natural gas".   It has good uses in making fabric, plastics, anti-freeze and fertilizer, among others.  But if it leaks uncontrolled into the atmosphere, it acts as a greenhouse gas that is at least as harmful as carbon dioxide.  Recent academic research, cited by our favorite author on these topics, Russell Gold, in a February Wall Street Journal blog article, suggests that methane emissions are quite sizable.  Indeed, he describes that using natural gas as fuel for transportation in cars and trucks, because it can leak out, may not be any better for the climate than regular gasoline.  However, in the confined space of a power plant producing electricity or a home producing heat, natural gas does have significant net benefits over coal and fuel oil.

Another important point is one we alluded to in our original article.  Building the fracking wells themselves and then transporting the gas must be done carefully.  If the cement shell of the well cracks, methane will escape.  Notably, the leakage of methane does not come from the inherent design of the fracking wells, but rather from flaws in the materials and construction of wells and pipeline.  These can be fixed by the oil companies, or better yet, prevented by careful construction in the first place.

All this underscores our basic conclusion yet again.  Use less energy to begin with.  But we can use natural gas quite effectively in electricity plants and furnaces, as long as the gas is obtained through safe fracking practices.  This is important to know.

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