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Fracking operation in the greater Fort St. John area in northeastern British Columbia. Jeremy Sean Williams

Fracking's Dark Secret

We've long known extracting oil and gas comes with negative consequences, and rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, increases the problems and adds new ones—excessive water use and contamination, earthquakes, destruction of habitat and agricultural lands and methane emissions among them.


As fossil fuel reserves become depleted, thanks to our voracious and wasteful habits, extraction becomes more extreme and difficult. Oil sands mining, deep sea drilling and fracking are employed because easily accessible supplies are becoming increasingly scarce. The costs and consequences are even higher than with conventional sources and methods.

Fracking involves drilling deep into the Earth, and injecting a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to break apart shale and release gas or oil. In British Columbia, politicians tout liquefied natural gas as an economic panacea, a product we can export around the world to create jobs and prosperity at home. More than 80 percent of BC's natural gas is fracked, and as fracking increases, the percentage rises.

Of the many problems with the industry, methane emissions from fracked and conventional operations are among the most serious. Methane is at least 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas over the short term. Researchers estimate it's responsible for 25 percent of already observed climatic changes. One difference between methane and CO2: Methane remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time—around a decade, compared to many decades or centuries for CO2.

Methane's relatively short lifespan means reducing the amount entering the atmosphere will have major and rapid results. Cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to address climate change. The technology to do so already exists. It's absurd that the industry is leaking the very resource it wants to sell.

Methane comes from a number of sources, including animal agriculture and natural emissions. Global warming itself means methane once trapped in frozen ground or ice is escaping into the air.

The oil and gas industry is one of the major emitters. A field study by the David Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University found methane pollution from BC's oil and gas industry is at least 2.5 times higher than BC government estimates.

In 2015 and 2016, foundation researchers joined St. Francis Xavier University's Flux Lab under the supervision of David Risk, an expert in measurement, detection and repair of fugitive emissions. Using gas-detection instruments mounted on a "sniffer truck," they traveled more than 8,000 kilometers in northeastern BC. They found methane emissions from BC's Montney region alone are greater than what the provincial government has estimated for the entire industry! (Montney represents about 55 percent of BC's oil and gas production). David Suzuki Foundation senior scientist John Werring followed up on and corroborated that research by measuring point-source methane emissions from more than 170 oil and gas sites.

The research, available in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, found Montney operations leak and intentionally release more than 111,800 tonnes of methane into the air annually—equivalent to burning more than 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting more than two million cars on the road. Half of all well and processing sites in the region are releasing methane.

This research shows that the oil and gas sector is the largest source of climate pollution in BC, surpassing commercial transportation—and it contradicts claims that natural gas or LNG is a clean fuel or that it's useful to help us transition from other fossil fuels.

Given these results and other studies—including one in Alberta that found the amount of methane leaking from Alberta operations in one year could heat 200,000 homes—it's time for all levels of government to get industrial methane emissions under control.

Beyond existing commitments to reduce methane emissions by 45 percent, governments must work to eliminate them from this sector by 2030, with strong regulations, monitoring and oversight. We need better leak detection and repair, improved reporting and enforcement and methods to capture emissions rather than burning them.

Climate change is a serious issue, and methane emissions are a significant contributor. Getting them under control is a quick, cost-effective way to help address the problem. What's stopping us?

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Thanksgiving Dinner Is Cheapest in Years, But Are Family Farms Paying the Price?

By Sarah Reinhardt

Last week, the Farm Bureau released the results of its annual price survey on the cost of a typical Thanksgiving dinner. The grand total for a "feast" for 10 people, according to this year's shoppers? About 50 dollars ($49.87, if you want to be exact). That includes a 16-pound turkey at $1.40 per pound, and a good number of your favorite sides: stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk.

After adjusting for inflation, the Farm Bureau concluded that the cost of Thanksgiving dinner was at its lowest level since 2013. Let's talk about what that means for farmers, and for all of us.

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Would More People Ride the Bus if It Looked and Felt Like a Train?

By Jeff Turrentine

It moves through city thoroughfares, towering above automobile traffic. It makes frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers. It has places to sit, places to stand, and—yes—rubber-tired wheels that go 'round and 'round, all through the town.

But don't call it a bus. It's a "trackless electric train."

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Electric Car Sales Surge 63% Globally

Electric vehicles (EVs) continue to gain momentum on the world market.

Global sales of electric and hybrid cars are 63 percent higher than the same quarter last year, and up 23 percent from the second quarter, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report.

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Harvesting sugarcane in Brazil. Jonathan Wilkins / CC BY-SA

Jet Fuel From Sugarcane? It’s No Flight of Fancy

By Deepak Kumar, Stephen P. Long and Vijay Singh

The aviation industry produces two percent of global human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. This share may seem relatively small—for perspective, electricity generation and home heating account for more than 40 percent—but aviation is one of the world's fastest-growing greenhouse gas sources. Demand for air travel is projected to double in the next 20 years.

Airlines are under pressure to reduce their carbon emissions, and are highly vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations. These challenges have spurred strong interest in biomass-derived jet fuels. Bio-jet fuel can be produced from various plant materials, including oil crops, sugar crops, starchy plants and lignocellulosic biomass, through various chemical and biological routes. However, the technologies to convert oil to jet fuel are at a more advanced stage of development and yield higher energy efficiency than other sources.

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"Eólica" or wind power plant in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. ICE Group / Twitter

Costa Rica Runs Entirely on Renewable Energy for 300 Days

Costa Rica has charted another clean energy accolade. So far this year, the Central American country has run on 300 days of 100 percent power generation from renewable energy sources, according to the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE), which cited figures from the National Center for Energy Control.

With six weeks left of 2017 to go, Costa Rica could easily surpass 300 days.

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Starbucks Falls Short on Environmental Commitments

By Davis Harper

Since the early 1970s, Starbucks has held a special place in cupholders. Widespread infatuation with the company's caffeinated beverages has earned the coffee giant a storefront on almost every corner. With outposts in 75 countries and a whopping 13.3 million people enrolled in its loyalty rewards program, Starbucks has scorched nearly all of its closest competitors among major U.S. food brands (most of which aren't even coffee chains) in total market value.

With such reach and power comes tremendous responsibility. Starbucks touts its own corporate responsibility—claiming to be climate-change-aware and cognizant of its environmental cup-print—but how many latte-sippers know that their paper cup actually isn't recyclable and that it'll likely end up in a landfill? Might the knowledge that Starbucks's meat supply is pumped with antibiotics alter the market's appetite for the popular chicken and double-smoked bacon sandwich? Although the company prides itself on environmental awareness and progress toward sustainable products, multiple reports point to the mega-corporation's failure to live up to its own purported standards.

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Rising temperatures and more atmospheric carbon dioxide cause rice fields to yield less and release more methane. Shutterstock

Report: Social Cost of Carbon Has Been Drastically Underestimated

Our understanding of the social cost of carbon (SCC) relied on outdated science from the 1980s, and is likely wrong.

The latest calculations based on new modeling by UCLA and Purdue University show a drastic divergence with previous results—an increase of 129 percent, which moves the figure to $19.70 per ton of carbon dioxide. This calculation rests on the Climate Framework for Uncertainty, Negotiation and Distribution, or FUND model.

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The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation tweeted: "The #KeystoneXL must be stopped: commit to peaceful resistance on the route http://nokxlpromise.org/ #NoKXL #KeystoneXLPipeline #KeystoneSpill"

Why Pipeline Opponents Cheered Monday's Keystone XL Approval

Yes, it's true that the Nebraska Public Service Commission voted Monday to approve the long-gestating Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. But don't score it as a win for TransCanada—or as a "boost for Trump"—just yet.

That's because the commission approved the "mainline alternative route," and that's not the route that the pipeline operator wants.

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