In its recently published report, “The Fact About Fugitive Methane,” the Centre for Policy Studies, a right-of-centre think-tank, states that methane leakage as a result of shale gas fracking has been overestimated.
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas have long argued that a one or two percent leakage of methane during the fracking process is enough to wipe out its advantage over coal. The study’s authors – Elizabeth Muller, co-founder of research group Berkeley Earth, and Richard A Muller, Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley – contend that this estimate is wrong. “Over a 100-year time span, an implausible 12 percent of the produced natural gas used today would have to leak in order to negate an advantage over coal.” This report comes as environmental campaigners across to the UK are getting ready to oppose possible shale gas extraction in dozens of sites in the country.
The Oil and Gas Authority announced in August twenty-seven locations in the Midlands, and Northern England where licenses to frack for gas will be offered. These licenses give the sole right to explore for shale gas, but local authorities still need to give planning permission for each well. Objections to natural gas extraction have been centered mostly around the worry it isn’t a zero-carbon source of energy, that it could delay development of true zero-carbon alternatives, and that local level fracking leads to problems. The report says that a fourth concern is the threat of leaked or ‘fugitive’ methane. There is a widely held concern in thoughtful circles that the danger of this fugitive shale gas is reason enough to stop exploring for shale gas altogether.
The report states: “For example, a simple number published by Alvarez et al has been widely used by policy makers: they say that for equivalent greenhouse emissions compared to a coal plant, the maximum leakage is 3.2 per cent.” However, the authors say that the best current estimates peg the average leakage for the whole natural gas supply chain at below three percent. Even at three percent, natural gas would produce less than half the warming than what coal has averaged over the 100 years following emission. This is why the report concludes that the dangers of shale gas are overestimated.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Tony Bosworth says that shale gas is the wrong direction for energy policy, in general, regardless of how much methane escapes during production. Bosworth states, “The bottom line is, if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change then we have to leave 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves underground.” Real solutions, like renewable power and energy efficiency, should instead be pushed according to him.