Methane leaks make shale gas as doubtful as coal

From Mr Chris Loaring.

Sir, In a week in which the fracking stand-off reached a new nadir, Guy Chazan (“No middle ground in fracking debate”, August 22) encourages a rational evaluation of the pros and cons of the controversial extraction technique. Discussion of the potential risks associated with fracking has focused on the impact on communities and the local environment yet we are missing the bigger picture. Many scientists suspect that the rapid exploration of unconventional gas deposits, such as shale and coal bed methane, could result in such huge methane releases that it could potentially tip the planet into an “alternative climate system”.

Shale gas is being heralded as the cleanest form of fossil fuels, since it produces less carbon dioxide on burning when compared with oil and coal. Yet the extraction and use of shale gas produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, methane being a potent greenhouse gas, 33 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Most of the methane losses come from leakage during drilling as well as during flowback of the fracking fluid. Further losses occur during compression of the gas and during pipeline transport.

Results of initial research launched in February 2012 indicated that methane leakage rates from wells in Denver, Colorado were about 4 per cent of total gas production, while further research on the heavily fracked natural gasfields in the Denver-Julesburg Basin of Colorado and the Uinta Basin of Utah indicate that the leakage rates may actually be as high as 9 per cent. Most scientists are in agreement that any leakage above 2 per cent in gas production makes the fuel a dirty source of energy and at least as problematic as coal.

It is contingent upon the government to use scientific evidence to develop a better understanding of the possible climate implications of fracking before pushing ahead with the dash for gas. As with all things, with increasing involvement and participation comes necessity or increased guidance controls and structures. We hope that the government’s rigorous approach to the fiscal side of fracking is matched by its approach on the environmental side also.

Chris Loaring, Commercial Manager, Argyll Environmental, Brighton, UK

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