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Report: "Fracking" Harms Climate More Than Coal

Photo by Wigwam Jones
A coal power plant in West Virginia. A new study says hydraulic fracturing, a method used to extract natural gas, is more harmful than coal energy because of the large amounts of methane gas it emits.

Cornell University researchers are about to publish scientific evidence that a controversial method to drill for natural gas used in Texas and elsewhere is more damaging to the environment than using coal for energy production, reports The Hill.

Cornell Prof. Robert Howarth, however, argues that development of gas from shale rock formations produced through hydraulic fracturing – dubbed “fracking” – brings far more methane emissions than conventional gas production. Enough, he argues, to negate the carbon advantage that gas has over coal and oil when they’re burned for energy, because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas. … The Hill obtained a pre-publication version of the study, which is slated to run in the journal Climatic Change.

Fracking is a widespread practice in the Barnett Shale, a natural gas-rich area of North Texas that covers 18 counties. Our political reporting partners, the Texas Tribune, pointed to a recent five-part series by the Denton Record-Chronicle that looked at the effect of fracking up close.

It covers health concerns in the towns of Dish and Flower Mound, as well as broader concerns about what's causing odors associated with drilling; the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water supplies and quality; the importance of a good cement job in constructing a well; the growing practice of "landfarming," which involves "spreading tons of drilling mud and other toxic waste" over the land; and the economic impact of drilling, including the risks of becoming a "mono-economy." The Record-Chronicle has also posted a number of relevant documents online, embedded in the stories.

A bill in the Texas legislature would require energy producers to disclose the chemicals used in their fracking operations, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Southwestern Energy, a large independent natural gas and oil producer based in Houston, supported the measure, said Mark Boling, executive vice president and general counsel. …. At least two environmental groups, the Environmental Defense Fund and Texas League of Conservation Voters, back the bill.

Here's an interesting short documentary about fracking produced by the PBS program Need To Know.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.