Why we need to proceed cautiously before full-on embrace of shale gas

My Clean  Break column today looks at the role that natural gas will play as we move toward lower-carbon sources of energy, but it also warns of relying too much on shale gas. Here’s the issue: shale gas is not just a water pig and a potential threat to water aquifers and lakes, it is extracted in a way that may release more greenouse-gas emissions than we bargained for. Sure, burn it in a power plant and, just like conventional natural gas, it emits as much as half the emissions of a coal-fired power plant. But fugitive methane emissions released during the extraction of shale gas could make this supposedly lower-carbon source of energy a much dirtier option that coal. I say “could” because we don’t know for sure — there isn’t enough information and there hasn’t been enough study of this issue to know for certain. Given this uncertainty, is it wise to call for a major transition to natural gas from coal — as some folks at MIT have suggested — as a way to lower greenouse-gas emissions in the short term? Is it wise for the U.S. to drop plans for a comprehensive climate bill in exchange for a narrow energy bill that would boost natural gas demand but do nothing for renewables? On the surface, it sounds like a winning strategy. I just worry that, when the full lifecycle analysis is done, we’d just be making things worse if such a transition relies on new shale gas development. Check out my column for more details.

4 thoughts on “Why we need to proceed cautiously before full-on embrace of shale gas”

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  2. Some people argue that all this unconventional gas is actually going to help with climate change mitigation efforts, because people will burn it for electricity in place of coal. In response to this argument, it seems sensible to point out that what really matters are the total cumulative emissions of humanity – not the amount of greenhouse gases released in any particular year. If we burn this gas and then go on to burn that same coal later, we will be in a worse position than if we had never gained access to the gas. The one way in which these gas reserves could conceivably help with efforts to deal with climate change is if they displace coal in the short term, and then legislation finally comes through to push the national economies in question away from the use of coal forever.

    Of course, accomplishing that will be an incredibly difficult feat, given the entrenched interests involved. As such, it seems far more sensible to protest any new extraction or use of coal and unconventional oil and gas, while simultaneously pushing for legislation that will finally put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, and that will treat the risks associated with climate change appropriately by, among other things, putting a moratorium on coal use.

  3. I wouldn’t have any problem with these — including coal — if we showed any willingness to try and reorganize society and cut consumption and if these newer “findings” were being used to bridge the gap and pad the error margin.

    But they’re not — the premise for extracting this stuff seems to be to allow things to keep running as they are for a bit longer into the future.

    I have a difficult time with this because I am really tired of the lies and over-the-top rubbish put forth by environmentally-minded people while, at the same time, the “free market will save us all” approach has problems, too. Given a choice between the two, I have to side with the latter because at least these people are creative, progressive, and have an ability to get things done. A lot of the former are just age-old failed communists and anarchists who want to see things smashed and broken.

  4. Nuclear electricity environmentally friendly ??? nuclear is filthy – the implemented nuclear waste has a half lifetime of hundreds to a huge number of years – it under no circumstances goes away or becomes much less unsafe to humans along with other life at the planet – when the nuclear plant has an accident and melts down there goes that portion of your world, possibly for superior – guess Chernobyl in Russia, three Mile Island in your US -( that was a near miss). The site in Russia is continue to toxic to this day. Not to mention they are a wonderful target for terrorists, if you are paranoid. Solar, wind, and so forth. is attainable in Canada, photo voltaic operates anyplace the sun hits, you may have wind, right ?? there are a great number of other approaches to create fresh energy.

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