A few days ago I noted the glee attending shale gas in the exploration community -- it's not just in North America, it's all over the world!!! To date, most of the controversy surrounding fracking -- the process used to release gas from shale formations -- has centered on water quality issues. No more.
A recent report by Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, concludes that the carbon footprint of unconventional gas production from shale is worse for the climate than burning coal. His analysis, to be published later this week in Climatic Change Letters, found that somewhere from 3.6 percent to 7.9 percent of methane, the chief component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas (72 times as potent as carbon dioxide according to IPCC), is leaking into the atmosphere at various points along the shale gas production life cycle. As the graph below shows, this makes natural gas from shale the least desirable fuel of the bunch, at least in terms of its impact on the climate.
Not surprisingly, given the stampede to shale gas in the industry, Howarth's report is being refuted in detail before it is even public. See, in particular, this discussion at Energy in Depth.
Additional information on the debate is available here.
Keith Kloor has also weighed in on the debate over at his Frontier Earth blog.