Stop coal seam fracking
The World is running out of time to deal with the worsening climate emergency. To make things even worse, the World is now undergoing a gas rush and a gas boom, with gas derived from conventional on-shore and off-shore sources and also from shale deposits that are being subject to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. Because methane (85% of natural gas) leaks (3.3% US average, up to 7.9% from fracking) and is 105 times worse as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20 year time frame with aerosol impacts included, a coal to gas transition represents a huge threat to a World that must get to zero greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by about 2050 if it is to avoid a disastrous 2 degree Centigrade temperature rise.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of leaked natural gas.
Methane (CH4) has a molecular weight of 16 and carbon dioxide (CO2) has a molecular weight of 44.
When you burn CH4 you get CO2: CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2 H2O.
Accordingly, burning 16 tones of CH4 yields 44 tones of CO2; burning 100 tones of CH4 yields 100 tones x 44/16 = 275 tones of CO2; and burning 1 tone CH4 yields 2.75 tones CO2.
However if there is industrial leakage of CH4 (estimated to be 3.3% in the US from US EPA data)  then one must consider the greenhouse gas (GHG) effect of the released methane (105 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas on a 20 year time scale with aerosol impacts included) [2-5].
16 g CH4 (1 mole CH4) has the GHG effect of 44 g of CO2 (1 mole of CO2) x 105.
Accordingly, 1 g CH4 has the GHG effect of 44 g CO2 x 105/16 = 288.75 g CO2 and 1 tone CH4 has the GHG effect of 288.8 tones CO2-e (CO2 equivalent i.e. taking other GHGs as well as CO2 into account).
Of 100 tones of CH4, how much CH4 leakage (y tones) gives the same greenhouse effect (in CO2 equivalents or CO2-e) as burning the remaining CH4?
y tones CH4 x (288.8 tones CO2-e/tonne CH4) = (100-y) tones CH4 x (2.75 tones CO2-e/ tone CH4).
288.8y tones CO2-e = (100-y) 2.75 tones CO2-e
288.8y = 275 – 2.75y
291.6y = 275
y = 275/291.6 = 0.94 i.e. a 0.94 % leakage of CH4 yields the same greenhouse effect as burning the remaining 99.06% CH4.
Check: 0.94 tones leaked CH4 corresponds to 0.94 tones CH4 x 288.8 tones CO2-e/ tone CH4 = 271.5 tones CO2-e. Burning the remaining 99.06 tones of CH4 corresponds to 99.06 tones CH4 x 2.75 tones CO2/tonne CH4 = 272.4 tones CO2.
Assuming that the MWh of energy produced per tone of CO2 pollution for a gas-fired power station is on average 2 times that of a coal-fired power station (the current situation in the state of Victoria, Australia) , what would a coal to gas transition for electricity mean in terms of GHG pollution?
In Victoria, Australia, gas-fired power stations (0.60 – 0.90 tones CO2-e/MWh, average 0.75 tones CO2-e/MWh) are roughly twice as efficient in producing energy as brown coal-burning power stations (1.21-1.53 tones CO2-e/MWh) according to a report by Green Energy Markets commissioned by Environment Victoria (EV) . Accordingly, at a systemic leakage of 0.94% the GHG pollution would roughly double to about 1.5 tones CO2-e/MWh, equivalent to that of Hazelwood, the dirtiest coal-fired power station in Victoria.
A more precise set of calculations is given below.
If the systemic leakage rate is zero (0) then burning of 100 tones CH4 would be associated with 275 tones CO2-e to give 0.75 tones CO2-e/MWh.
If the leakage rate is 0.94% then combustion of 99.06 tones of CH4 would be associated with 275 tones CO2 x 99.06/100 = 272 tones CO2 (from burning) + 0.94 tones CH4 x 288.8 tones CO2-e/ tone CH4 = 271 tones CO2-e (from leakage) = 543 tones CO2-e. Accordingly, burning of 100 tones CH4 would be associated with 543 tones CO2-e x 100/99.06 = 548 tones CO2-e i.e. tones CO2-e/MWh would increase by a factor of 548/275 = 2.0 to give 2.0 x 0.75 tones CO2-e/MWh = 1.5 tones CO2-e/MWh (i.e. as dirty as Hazelwood)..
If the leakage rate is 3.3% (US average) then the combustion of 96.7 tones of CH4 would be associated with 275 tones CO2 x 96.7/100 = 266 tones CO2 (from burning) + 3.3 tones CH4 x 288.8 tones CO2-e/ tone CH4 = 953 tones CO2-e (from leakage) = 1,219 tones CO2-e. Accordingly, burning of 100 tones CH4 would be associated with 1,219 tones CO2-e x 100/96.7 = 1,261 tones CO2-e i.e. tones CO2-e/MWh would increase by a factor of 1,261/275 = 4.6 to give 4.6 x 0.75 tones CO2-e/MWh = 3..5 tones CO2-e/MWh (2.3 times as dirty as Hazelwood).
If the leakage rate is 7.9% (the upper estimate with shale formation-derived gas)  then the combustion of 92.1 tones of CH4 would be associated with 275 tones CO2 x 92.1/100 = 253 tones CO2 (from burning) + 7.9 tones CH4 x 288.8 tones CO2-e/ tone CH4 = 2,282 tones CO2-e (from leakage) = 2,535 tones CO2-e. Accordingly, burning of 100 tones CH4 would be associated with 2,535 tones CO2-e x 100/96.7 = 2,622 tones CO2-e i.e. tones CO2-e/MWh would increase by a factor of 2,622/275 = 9.5 to give 9.5 x 0.75 tones CO2-e/MWh = 7.1 tones CO2-e/MWh (roughly 4.7 times as dirty as Hazelwood).
Methane is 105 times worse than carbon dioxide (CO2) as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20 year time scale and major systemic gas leakage from the hydraulic fracking of shale formations has led Professor Robert Howarth, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, to conclude that “The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming. We do not intend that our study be used to justify the continued use of either oil or coal, but rather to demonstrate that substituting shale gas for these other fossil fuels may not have the desired effect of mitigating climate warming”. .
Censorship of gas GHG impact in Western Lobbyocracies.
US President Barack Obama has outrageously and falsely lumped planet-threatening natural gas under "clean energy"; permitted a massive expansion of offshore gas and oil drilling; and supported the Alaska Gas Pipeline, massive expansion of on-shore gas drilling and an oil-to-gas shift for transportation. One would have hoped that the 2010 Gulf oil and gas disaster tragically devastating the coastal environments of the US Gulf States would have prompted sensible, informed public discussion about the immense threat that natural gas (mostly methane) poses to Humanity and the Biosphere.
At least one news report in 2010 sounded the alarm about methane from the Gulf oil spill disaster (variously known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the BP oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the BP oil disaster, or the Macondo blowout): “According to John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the BP oil spill, the crude oil emanating from the seafloor [up to 100,000 barrels oil equivalent per day = 0.013 million tones oil equivalent] contains about 40% methane compared to about 5% found in typical crude oil deposits. The risk is great, as marine life will be suffocated as a result of the increased methane levels. The Gulf of Mexico will eventually have "dead zones" to deal with where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives. This is significant and can forever alter the water/life composition. "This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history," Kessler said.” .
The amount of methane released over the 86 days between the initial blow-out and capping the well-head (20 April – 15 July 2010) can be estimated at 0.4 x (0.013 million tones methane /day) x 86 days = 0.447 million tones CH4 = 0.447 Mt CH4 x 105 x (44/16) (Mt CO2-e / Mt CH4) = 129 Mt CO2-e. Fortunately, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): “John Kessler of Texas A&M University and colleagues surveyed the Gulf waters during the leak as well as after the wellhead was sealed, and their results indicate that a vigorous bloom of bacteria degraded virtually all of the methane released form the well within 120 days of the initial blowout.” .
Australian novelist Peter Carey recently observed that the really important news is the news that is not reported. Ditto, "The holes in history are what make sense of the thing" (Aarons and Loftus, "The Secret War Against the Jews", p12). This is well exampled by President Barack Obama avoiding mention of natural gas in his recent speech on the Gulf oil disaster from the Oval Office – completely missing from Obama’s Gulf oil-and-gas disaster speech was one key word: gas. Read through his speech and you will find that he used the following words in descending order of occurrence: oil (24 times), energy (14), drilling/drill (8), clean energy (6), environmental (4), God/He (4), Al Qaeda (1), recession (1), gas (0). .
Similarly, a search of the entire ABC site for “Robert Howarth” yielded one (1) result relating to the Cornell professor (and that due to me in a reader comment thread), noting that the ABC is the Australian equivalent of the BBC). Searches of The Australian newspaper (Australian national flagship of the Murdoch media empire) and of The Age ( the Melbourne quality newspaper of the Fairfax media empire and arguably Australia’s most progressive Mainstream medium) reveal zero (0) and one (1) report, respectively of the findings of Professor Robert Howarth (The Age report being a letter from me that it kindly published).
Coal seam gas (CSG), fracking and gas-based GHG pollution in Australia.
Australia is a world leader in annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution, coal exports and liquid natural gas (LNG) exports. Australia is also part of the global gas rush; gas boom and fracking-based GasLand scenario (see the movie GasLand about the impact of fracking in the US). However the Liberal National Party-National Party Coalition opposition and the Labor Governments (collectively known as the Lib-Labs) have identical overall climate policies of “5% off 2000 Domestic GHG pollution” coupled with expanding coal and liquid natural gas (LNG) exports. The Libs gave a “direct Action “policy (too little too late) whereas Labor has a disastrously counterproductive Carbon Tax-ETS plan that yields massive increases in Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution in 2020 and 2050 over that in 2000. Thus the following estimates of Domestic and Exported GHG pollution in Mt CO2-e and based on Treasury, ABARE and US EIA data (noting that coal and gas exports are predicted to increase annually by 2.6% and 9%, respectively):
2000: 496 (Domestic) + 504.9 (coal exports) + 16.8 (LNG exports) = 1017.8.
2009: 600 (Domestic) + 784 (coal exports) + 31 (LNG exports) = 1,415 (total).
2020: 621 (Domestic) + 1,039 (black coal exports) + 80 (LNG exports) + 59 (brown coal exports) = 1,799.
2050: 527 (Domestic) + 2902 (coal exports) + 1,061 (LNG exports) = 4,409.
However these estimates do not take into account an approximate doubling of electricity sector GHG pollution due to a Labor Government-adumbrated coal to gas transition (and indeed an approximately 5 fold increase if fracked shale gas is used). Hydraulic fracking of shale seams is becoming controversial throughout the world, including Australia (see the movie “GasLand”). Thus the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale deposits with water containing numerous chemical additives has been banned in France and England and New York State has imposed a moratorium on the practice. In Australia there are bipartisan concerns about fracking procedures violating prime agricultural land and contaminating and depleting aquifers e.g. the Great Artesian Basin, a huge source of water in this dry continent.
The main arguments against fracking for coal seam gas (CSG) are destruction of prime agricultural land in a hungry world; pollution and depletion of underground aquifers; and that gas is dirty, generates CO2 on combustion and due to leakage can be much dirtier GHG-wise than coal or oil (if there is a coal to “fracked gas” conversion. there will a circa 5-fold increase in electricity sector GHG pollution in Australia).
However a fundamental objection to “fracking” and a coal to gas conversion is that the World is rapidly running out of time to deal with the worsening climate emergency. Thus in 2009 the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WBGU, Wissenshaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen) issued a report entitled “Solving the climate dilemma: the budget approach” in which it estimated that for a 75% chance of avoiding a disastrous 2 degree Centigrade temperature rise the World must emit no more than 600
Natural gas represents a huge threat to the World if, as adumbrated by corporations and governments, there is a coal to gas transition. Ignored by MPs, mainstream media and MPs in the Western Lobbyocracies is the reality that because methane (85% of natural gas) leaks (3.3% US average, up to 7.9% from fracking) and is 105 times worse as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20 year time frame with aerosol impacts included, a coal to gas transition represents a huge threat to a World that must get to zero greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by about 2050 if it is to avoid a disastrous 2 degree Centigrade temperature rise. Hydraulic fracturing for shale deposit gas destroys agricultural land in a hungry world, pollutes and depletes aquifers and increases the systemic GHG pollution associated with heat and power generation. All countries and international jurisdictions must follow the examples of France, England and New York State and ban shale deposit fracking. The World is running out of time to seriously tackle the worsening climate emergency.
. David Lewis, "EPA confirms natural gas leakage rates", The Energy Collective, 7 December 2010.
. Drew T. Shindell , Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch , Gavin A. Schmidt , Nadine Unger and Susanne E. Bauer , “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science 30 October 2009:
Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718.
. Shindell et al (2009), Fig.2.
. . Katharine Sanderson, “Aerosols make methane more potent”, Nature News, 29 October 2009.
. Dr Drew Shindell, quoted in Mark Henderson, “Methane's impact on global warming far higher than previously thought”, The Times, 30 October 2009.
 Green Energy Markets, “Fast-tracking Victoria's clean energy future to replace Hazelwood”, 2010.
. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea, “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations”, Climatic Change, 2011.
. Todd Schoenberger, “Methane gas concerns arose from Gulf oil spill”, Taipan’s Tipping Point Alert, 18 June 2010.
. AAAS, “Science: Gulf bacteria quickly digested spilled methane, research says”, 6 January 2011.
. Remarks by the President to the Nation on the BP Oil Spill, Oval Office, White House,15 June 2010.
. Gideon Polya, “World running out of time. Zero emissions by 2023”, MWC News, 1 August 2011: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/12508-zero-emissions.html .
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|Denis G. Rancourt|