To Frack or not to Frack…that is the Question!

We got a lot of figuring out to do!

On the one hand its great to see major coal burning electrical plants converting to much cleaner burning”Natural Gas” it will certainly reduce CO2 emissions and particulate matter (black carbon).  On the other hand, “Natural Gas” primarily consists of “Methane”.

Per Wikipedia on Atmospheric Methane…”In 2010, methane levels in the Arctic were measured at 1850 nmol/mol, a level over twice as high as at any time in the 400,000 years prior to the industrial revolution. Historically, methane concentrations in the world’s atmosphere have ranged between 300 and 400 nmol/mol during glacial periods commonly known as ice ages, and between 600 to 700 nmol/mol during the warm interglacial periods. It has a high global warming potential: 72 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years, and 25 times over 100 years,[43] and the levels are rising.”

Not too promising an outlook for our atmosphere! Go to the following link to read all you’d ever want to know about Methane.

So basically, methane is worse for our atmosphere than carbon dioxide!   In order to retrieve natural gas, once a by product of petroleum exploration, major US companies are utilizing the hydraulic fracking method.  Martin Lack in his Blog “Lack of Environment” points this out quite well.

Fracking Site in West Virginia

Fracking Site in West Virginia

Way beyond Flatulence in Cows

One of the issues associated with fracking is that an average of 8 percent of the natural gas “methane” escapes to our atmosphere.  This doesn’t sound like much, but unfortunately methane is worse than the CO2 gases that we are so worried about.  This is way beyond flatulence in cows!  Undoubtedly the many animals being raised for domestic uses in large concentrated feedlot operations have a methane impact, you must also figure in the massive landfills found throughout our country that burp methane on a regular basis, as well as the gases released from the thawing permafrost in the Artic.



How does fracking work?

This is the definition that Wikipedia offers…

Hydraulic fracturing is the propagation of fractures in a rock layer by a pressurized fluid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally—certain veins or dikes are examples—and can create conduits along which gas and petroleum from source rocks may migrate to reservoir rocks. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, commonly known as fracing, fraccing, or fracking, is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction.[1] This type of fracturing creates fractures from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations.

As of 2010, it was estimated that 60% of all new oil and gas wells worldwide were being hydraulically fractured.[2]

Read more of the Wikipedia definition at the following link.

On the one hand fracking sounds rather benign

If the main goal was to rescue natural gas that was lost to the atmosphere or flaring, fracking so that we can use it to provide energy is probably a good idea.  Gas is cleaner burning that coal or oil.  That is good.  But on the other hand what does it do to our environment in the immediate vicinity of the fracking operation and what types of bad chemicals do they use to during the operation and how much gas  still gets released to our atmosphere?

Wikipedia States…

Opponents point to potential environmental impacts, including contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and flowback and the health effects of these.[4] For these reasons hydraulic fracturing has come under scrutiny internationally, with some countries suspending or banning it.[5]

In February 2013, IVN published a report on flaring and the release of gas to the atmophere. One startling statistic is how man tons of carbon emissions are released into the Atmosphere!  IVN is an unfiltered news and information network for independent contributors, public officials, civic leaders, voters, and journalists. Check out their site at

“Gas flaring is the practice of burning natural gas associated with crude oil during extraction in an oil field. All too often, the natural gas released from fracking is burned, wasted, and damagingly released into the atmosphere — about 400 million tons of carbon emissions per year globally”

Flaring gases at a well site

Flaring gases at a well site

So what does 400 million tons of Carbon Emissions do to our Atmosphere?

A lot.

If you’re interested in this stuff, here’s a list of the estimated emissions measured by countries in the World to give you an example of where we stand.

List of countries by 2011 emissions estimates

EDGAR (database created by European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) released 2011 estimates. The following table is lists the 2011 estimate of annual CO2 emissions estimates (in thousands of CO2 tonnes) from these estimates along with a list of emissions per capita (in tons of CO2 per year) from same source.

Country CO2 emissions[11] Emission per capita[12]
 World 33,376,327 4.9
 China 9,700,000 7.2
 United States 5,420,000 17.3
 India 1,970,000 1.6
 Russia 1,830,000 12.8
 Japan 1,240,000 9.8
International transport 1,040,000
 Germany 810,000 9.9
 South Korea 610,000 12.6
 Canada 560,000 16.2

I’m not very good at math but the way I look at it what we add to the atmosphere from flaring and fracking operations are much more than many smaller nations in the world!

You can check out Wikipedias estimates of carbon emissions for all nations by going to the following link.

Right now, as you can see by the numbers the United States and Canada are the largest per capita polluters.  This is probably not a statistic to be proud of, but it does reflect our mechanized and consumption oriented lifestyle.  You could also factor in part of Chinas emissions as generated by the United States as well as other countries.  A majority of it probably comes during the manufacture of the many plastic products that Walmart sells!

I hate to think what will happen when China and India’s middle class catch up to the Western lifestyle!

So after all that…”Is Fracking Really Something That We Can Afford to Continue?”

The obvious answer would be “NO”.  However it is much more complicated that that.  Fracking and flaring has continued to grow in the world. For probably several good reasons, One, Gas burns cleaner.  This is something all major power hungry nations are realizing.  Their environment cannot withstand business as usual.  Two, Economics.  Gas is a by product of oil production that has previously been wasted.  There is money in Gas!

What can we do?

Probably not much in the near future,  the battle continues for the use and development of new forms of fossil fuels and their access and delivery.  Is there as much of a battle going on for the development of alternative energy sources? No.  Why you might ask?  Well, because big oil and our politicians still feel that it is not a priority.  When will they start asking these questions?  Hopefully not until the last moment of environmental collapse.  If you have a concern about the way our country adds carbon emissions to our atmosphere…act now.

Contact your politicians and let them know you want them to stop  fracking and take actions to reduce emissions!


About rsingram

Environmental Specialist, Disaster Reservist, Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control, Para-Archeologist
This entry was posted in Climate Change, Economics, Environment, Natural Gas, Political Action and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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