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

A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on Sept. 19 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty Images for Amazon

The day before over 1,500 Amazon.com employees planned a walkout to participate in today's global climate strike, CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a sweeping plan for the retail and media giant to be carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris agreement schedule.

Read More Show Less

By Winona LaDuke

For the past seven years, the Anishinaabe people have been facing the largest tar sands pipeline project in North America. We still are. In these dying moments of the fossil fuel industry, Water Protectors stand, prepared for yet another battle for the water, wild rice and future of all. We face Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in North America, and the third largest corporation in Canada. We face it unafraid and eyes wide open, for indeed we see the future.

Read More Show Less
The climate crisis often intensifies systems of oppression. Rieko Honma / Stone / Getty Images Plus

By Mara Dolan

We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.

Read More Show Less