Shale may be More Damaging to the Climate Than Coal

Shale gas may be more significant in altering climate change than burning coal according to a new study that was carried out by US researchers under the guidance of Robert Haworth from Cornell University in Ithaca, US.

Shale gas is obtained by a process known as fracking that many energy experts believed to have been a low carbon energy supply source and method. However, this latest study has revealed that the wells used in this process leak large quantities of methane that is one of the most significant greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

According to Haworth and his team whom will publish the research in the journal Climate Change, "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."

"We have produced the first comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas," lead author Howarth said.

The Cornell University employee admitted that other options rather than continuing with shale gas should be looked at and that a move to eco friendly and renewable resources like wind and water was needed."We should not proceed to view shale gas as a 'transitional fuel' to be used over the next few decades to replace other fossil fuels, but rather work harder to move towards truly green renewable fuels as quickly as possible, such as wind and solar," he told BBC News.

Howarth also criticised the role that the US industry played when it came to researching the impact that shale gas had on climate change."We have used the best available data the conclusion is that shale gas may indeed be quite damaging to global warming, quite likely as bad or worse than coal. No-one knows for sure to what extent industry uses best practices; and unfortunately, at least in the US, industry does not want government or the public to know. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules that would require industry to report methane emissions, but several companies have sued the EPA to try to prevent such reporting," he said.

Euan Nisbet, an expert geologist who is head of several methane monitoring and research programmes and works with the Royal Holloway, University of London, suggested the methane balance might be different between geological formations. “By trying to evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas extraction, Howarth and his team are asking important questions about this new bonanza. I suspect the debate on this will be long, and the answers will be different for each shale gas formation; but it is important that we tackle this debate."

The geologist also admitted that the energy used in carrying shale was a further problem. "We also need to be very careful to account fully for the greenhouse footprint of conventional gas piped over long distances, for instance in the import of Asian gas to Europe, or Norwegian gas to the UK. The energy choices are not easy," he said.

Photo credit: Rurhfisch