The Rural Blog: Researchers say hydraulically fractured shale releases more greenhouse gases than coal

April 12, 2011 | Energy, Waste, Water

One researcher’s conclusion that "natural gas pried from shale formations is dirtier than coal in the short term" and "comparable" in the long term will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, giving it more credence, Mike Soraghan reports for Greenwire.

"That finding, fiercely disputed by the gas industry, undermines the widely stated belief that gas is twice as ‘clean’ as coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions," Soraghan writes. "The gas industry has promoted that concept as a way for electric utilities to prepare for climate change regulations by switching from coal-fired plants to gas. But if both gas and coal are considered plentiful and cheap, utilities would have little incentive to switch."

The lead author of the study, Robert Howarth, announced the finding more than a year ago, but has now had it accepted for publication by the journal Climate Science. His co-authors are Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea, like him professors at Cornell University. They focus on the greenhouse gas methane, the main constituent of natural gas. They say 3.6 percent to 7.9 percent of the methane in a hydraulically fractured well escapes to the atmosphere during fracturing, at least one-third and perhaps as much as one-half more than in conventional gas drilling. Read the study