The Intersection Between Hydraulic Fracturing and Climate Change: 6 min video


I'm Professor Tony Ingraffea from Cornell University and President of Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy. Over the next few minutes I'm going to summarize the best available science on the question of the intersection between natural gas and climate change. So why should we be concerned about methane? Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That means that a very small quantity of methane emitted to the atmosphere without being burned is very, very bad for climate change. Where does the methane come from? What you're seeing in this video in false color is the emission of large quantities of methane – natural gas – during the flow back period of a well that has just been hydraulically fractured. everything that yellow is methane – natural gas.

As you can see there are large quantities being emitted and these emissions occur over days. Hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of methane are being vented into the atmosphere to become a greenhouse gas, which over short period of time, is a hundred times more potent than carbon dioxide as a climate change agent. This bubbling is occurring in a pool of water that's accumulated around the wellhead This is methane, and perhaps other hydrocarbon gases, leaking from outside the well and getting into the atmosphere. This occurrence is not uncommon. Data from Pennsylvania in the last three years showed that this kind of leaking occurs in about one out of every twenty brand new wells. Industry data shows over time that this kind of leakage begins to occur much more frequently is that wells age. So, those are two examples by video of how methane is emitted into the atmosphere without being burned and becomes a very potent greenhouse gas.

This graph shows that along many of the streets in boston the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is ten to fifteen times the background. Conclusion? The pipes are leaking. The pipes are leaking methane. How much leaks is a critical technical question. So, we go to the recent literature. Two recent results showed that in Utah up to 9 percent of all the methane being produced by gas wells out there was being leaked into the atmosphere. In Colorado, anywhere between 2.3 and 7 percent was being leaked into the atmosphere. We're gonna see that shell gas is not the cleanest, not the least worst of all the fossil fuels; it's the dirtiest it's the worst. So,any transfer of using coal or oil to natural gas is going in the wrong direction. It's not helping climate change, it's making it worse. We have a choice. If we choose business as usual – increasing the rate at which were burning fossil fuels – the computer models say we're on that purple line.

And it says we're going to get into a danger zone, where we've changed the temperature by two degrees centigrade by about the year 2045. James Hansen, perhaps the most famous of all climate scientist at NASA, has predicted that when we get to that two degree centigrade change we're going to see 4-9 meter rises in the oceans around the world. That's not a 100 years from now; it's only about thirty years from now. This photograph shows you black carbon soot from a processing unit. It's emitting large quantities of black carbon into the atmosphere. So, at all levels and unacceptable amount of methane and black carbon are being produced because of shale gas activity. It's much more effective in the short term to fight climate change by reducing methane and black carbon than it is to reduce carbon dioxide.

obviously we want to reduce all three. The computer models say, had we begun to do that in 2010, we'd never get to that two degree centigrade temperature change. We'd give our kids and our grandkids a fighting chance. We don't have to increase the production of shale gas everywhere; There's a much better alternative. So, in March of 2013, a group of engineers, scientists, economists, investment bankers published a paper which shows that there is a viable plan to convert New York State completely to the use of non-fossil fuels within twenty to thirty years. It's a peer reviewed refereed journal publication paper; it's bona fide science. We own the wind: you own, I own it, everybody owns the wind. The same with sunlight. The same with water.

We don't have to fight each other for it. It gives every country the opportunity for energy independence and energy security Moreover, fuel cost is zero. Therefore, is economically feasible to transform our energy sources in New York State entirely to wind, water, and solar in just two or three decades. It's economically feasible. It's technically feasible with the technologies that we have today. If Germany can do it and Denmark can do it, then other states and other countries can do it. We can as quickly as possible involve our legislators, our regulators, our investment banking community, and every individual citizen to get started on this. So, let me conclude by saying what I've already intimated: given a choice between shale gas and the inevitable emission of methane and black carbon from shale gas activities – which we now know will not make climate change stop or slow down, it will make it speed up – or doing something that is obvious – wind, water, and solar. I'll conclude by saying again, we own the wind we don't have to fight for same thing with the sun and water as energy sources.

They will make us energy secure and energy independent. It's really up to each of us to begin to work in our own homes, in our own communities, to inform our legislators and our regulators from local level through state level to federal level to recognize that carbon dioxide is not the only thing we should be concerned about. Methane is at least as important, and in some cases more important, in terms of quickly slowing down climate change..