Quantcast

Fracking Boom in U.S. and Canada Largely to Blame for Global Methane Spike, Study Finds

Climate
A new study suggests that recent fracking in the U.S. and Canada is largely to blame for the rise of methane in the Earth's atmosphere. Jeff Wallace / Flickr

By Julia Conley

New research by a scientist at Cornell University warns that the fracking boom in the U.S. and Canada over the past decade is largely to blame for a large rise in methane in the earth's atmosphere — and that reducing emissions of the extremely potent greenhouse gas is crucial to help stem the international climate crisis.


Professor Robert Howarth examined hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, over the past several decades, noting the fracking boom that has taken place since the first years of the 21st century. Between 2005 and 2015, fracking went from producing 31 billion cubic meters of shale gas per year to producing 435 billion cubic meters.

Nearly 90 percent of that fracking took place in the U.S., while about 10 percent was done in Canada.

The fracking method was first used by oil and gas companies in 1949, but Howarth concluded that fracking done in the past decade has particularly contributed to the amount of methane in the atmosphere. As Kashmira Gander wrote in Newsweek:

While methane released in the late 20th century was enriched with the carbon isotope 13C, Howarth highlights methane released in recent years features lower levels. That's because the methane in shale gas has depleted levels of the isotope when compared with conventional natural gas or fossil fuels such as coal, he explained.

"The methane in shale gas is somewhat depleted in 13C relative to conventional natural gas," Howarth wrote in the study, published Wednesday in the journal Biogeosciences. "Correcting earlier analyses for this difference, we conclude that shale-gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade."

"The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions," he added.

Other scientists praised Howarth's study on social media.

In addition to being the second-biggest contributor to the climate crisis after carbon dioxide, methane has been known to cause and exacerbate health issues for people who live in areas where large amounts of the gas is present in the environment.

Chest pains, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma can all be caused or worsened by high levels of methane. The process of fracking has also been linked to pollution in drinking water.

The Trump administration has no plans to reduce the amount of fracking that is taking place in the U.S. — rather, President Donald Trump has moved to open up public lands to gas and oil companies looking to purchase leases for fracking.

Howarth urged fossil fuel companies — and the government agencies charged with regulating them — to reverse course, shift to a renewable energy economy and "move as quickly as possible away from natural gas, reducing both carbon dioxide and methane emissions."

Cutting emissions of methane promptly would have a positive impact on the atmosphere and could help to slow the climate crisis, because the atmosphere reacts quickly to the addition and subtraction of the gas.

"This recent increase in methane is massive. It's globally significant. It's contributed to some of the increase in global warming we've seen and shale gas is a major player," Howarth said in a statement.

"If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate," he added. "It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It's the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mike Pence brought the first motorcade to Mackinac Island on Saturday. Cars have been banned on the island since 1898. 13 ON YOUR SIDE / YouTube screenshot

Vice President Mike Pence sparked outrage on social media Saturday when he traveled in the first-ever motorcade to drive down the streets of Michigan's car-free Mackinac Island, HuffPost reported.

Read More Show Less
Inhaling from an electronic cigarette. 6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Shawn Radcliffe

  • As illnesses and deaths linked to vaping continue to rise, health officials urge people to stop using e-cigarettes.
  • Officials report 8 deaths have been linked to lung illnesses related to vaping.
  • Vitamin E acetate is one compound officials are investigating as a potential cause for the outbreak.
The number of vaping-related illnesses has grown to 530 cases in 38 states and 1 U.S. territory, federal health officials reported.
Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Activist Greta Thunberg leads the Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in New York City. Roy Rochlin / WireImage / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

As organizers behind Friday's Global Climate Strike reported that four million children and adults attended marches and rallies all over the world — making it the biggest climate protest ever — they assured leaders who have been reticent to take bold climate action that the campaigners' work is far from over.

Read More Show Less

Summer has officially come to an end. Luckily, EcoWatch is here to keep its memory alive by sharing the winners of our "Best of Summer" photo contest.

Read More Show Less
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news conference at UN headquarters on Sept. 18. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Today is the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a gathering called by UN Secretary General António Guterres to encourage climate action ahead of 2020, the year when countries are due to up their pledges under the Paris agreement.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less
Students gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC, Sept. 20. NRDC

By Jeff Turrentine

Nearly 20 years have passed since the journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term tipping point, in his best-selling book of the same name. The phrase denotes the moment that a certain idea, behavior, or practice catches on exponentially and gains widespread currency throughout a culture. Having transcended its roots in sociological theory, the tipping point is now part of our everyday vernacular. We use it in scientific contexts to describe, for instance, the climatological point of no return that we'll hit if we allow average global temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. But we also use it to describe everything from resistance movements to the disenchantment of hockey fans when their team is on a losing streak.

Read More Show Less
samael334 / iStock / Getty Images

By Ruairi Robertson, PhD

Berries are small, soft, round fruit of various colors — mainly blue, red, or purple.

Read More Show Less