As most people are now well aware, hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling to release natural gas from shale beds has been implicated in numerous instances of contamination of water resources, including both potable and non-potable water, throughout several regions of the country.
Something that has drawn far less attention, however, is that fracking operations have also resulted in the release of increased amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that traps almost 90 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. In a study from the National Academy of Sciences concluded two years ago that methane was being released at fracking sites in Pennsylvania at a rate of 100 to 1,000 times what the estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had claimed.
Just last year, ten peer-reviewed articles in the academic journal Environmental Science & Technology found that methane from fracking operations in the Barnett Shale region of Texas was leaking into the atmosphere at a rate of about 1.5 times of the previous EPA estimates. Last month, a study by NASA scientists concluded that a 2,500-square mile methane “hot spot” plume existed at the intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. This phenomena was first detected in 2003 and confirmed by NASA satellite data in 2014, and has remained the largest concentration of atmospheric methane in the country. This methane pollution plume is directly related to leaks from natural gas drilling operations, and particularly the high level of fracking operations in the region. Another report relied upon by the Environmental Defense Fund has recognized that methane leaks from industrial operations in that region are the worst in the country, and “venting, flaring, and leaks from oil and gas sites on federal and tribal land in New Mexico alone effectively threw away $100 million worth of gas in 2013.”
For the past several years, the natural gas industry has repeatedly touted hydro-fracking for natural gas as a more environmentally-sensitive alternative to other fossil fuels such as coal and oil. However, based on these studies, the considerable amount of heat-trapping methane being released into the atmosphere from fracking is causing serious environmental degradation NOW, and the discussions play down how much water is contaminated in the hydro-fracking process.
HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Presently, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management are considering new regulations to reduce methane emissions and wasted natural gas from oil and gas drilling operations on public and tribal lands. While the period for formal public comment has passed, we encourage you to email to your elected officials, as well as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ms. Sally Jewell, who previously announced the proposed new rules, and encourage the adoption of this much-needed update to 30-year old regulations in order to better reduce the release of dangerous methane into our atmosphere from fracking operations around the country.