An Environmental Protection Agency report on methane gas production during hydraulic fracturing undercuts claims by opponents that the controversial method of drilling for natural gas substantially contributes to climate change with increased production of heat-trapping methane gas.
The federal agency said that tighter pollution controls implemented by the drilling industry has significantly lowered the amount of methane gas that leaks from wells, pipelines and other infrastructure associated with fracking, which involves injecting millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand and chemicals into shale rock formation to break up the rock and release trapped natural gas.
The methane gas issue has divided environmentalist groups, who prefer natural gas to coal as a fuel source since it produces less greenhouse gas. However, methane, also a greenhouse gas, is the main component of natural gas. High leakage during the drilling and production process would counter the benefits of relying on natural gas to fuel power plants.
But that is not the case. According to the EPA review of data, methane emissions from 1990 to 2010 are 20 percent lower than previously estimated even though natural gas production has increased by 40 percent since 1990. The study found that all sources of methane contribute only 9 percent of greenhouse gases.
Michael Shellenberger, president of the environmental group Breakthrough Institute, called the findings great news for anybody concerned about the climate and strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks.
The EPA report strengthens the position of New York state supporters of fracking in the Southern Tier. A moratorium in place since 2008 would be extended through mid-May 2015 under a bill passed in March by the Assembly. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has also missed several deadlines for a decision on whether to re-open the state to fracking. The Department of Environmental Conservation has delayed its rulemaking while it awaits a report on frackings health impacts.
Fracking is being used throughout the country and has brought an economic revival to communities in the Midwest and neighboring Pennsylvania, where oil companies are extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale that extends into New York state. Due to the failure to allow fracking, New York continues to lose out on the benefits being realized by other states, including jobs putting New Yorkers back to work. Lifting the moratorium would directly benefit the southern part of the state, but all New Yorkers will benefit from lower natural gas prices to heat their homes and from breathing cleaner air.