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Fracking, Obama and the 2012 Debate

By Ted Glick

Future Hope column, Feb. 20, 2012

http://www.tedglick.com/columns/118.html

"This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above
strategy. . . that develops every available source of
American energy. . . We have a supply of natural gas
that can last America nearly one hundred years. . . The
development of natural gas will . . . prov(e) that we
don't have to choose between our environment and our
economy. . . And by the way, it was public research
dollars. . . that helped develop the technologies to
extract all this natural gas out of shale rock -
reminding us that Government support is critical in
helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.
" -Barack Obama, January 25 State of the Union speech

Obama said more than this about energy in his State of
the Union speech almost a month ago. He talked about
the near-doubling of renewable energy in the three
years of his presidency and plans to develop "clean
energy" on public lands. He stated that he "will not
cede" the wind, solar or advanced battery industries to
China or Germany. He supported programs to reduce
energy waste in buildings. And he used the words
"climate change" once, which was one more time than he
used it in his 2011 SOTU speech.

But the most striking new idea in the area of energy
was his full-throated defense of fracked natural gas as
both an example of the important role of government
research and the fuel that we can depend on to meet our
energy needs for "nearly one hundred years."

This was a very, very bad development. And it is,
accordingly, incumbent upon the climate movement and
the progressive movement generally to take up this
challenge in this important election year. There must
be a loud, popular outcry this year against fracking,
as well as all of the other extreme energy extraction
methods and fuels: mountaintop removal coal, deep water
offshore and Arctic Ocean oil/gas drilling and tar
sands oil.

President Obama says that fracked natural gas allows us
to essentially chill out. Because of it, "we don't have
to choose between our environment and our economy."

What a disappointing, inaccurate and alarming
statement.

It's as if the around-a-thousand--so far--documented
cases of water poisoning from fracking are caused by
one or two "bad apple" companies in the gas industry
that can be easily made to see the error of their ways.
No, no no!

It's as if the impact of thousands of heavy truck trips
per well, or the huge amounts of water used and mixed
with dangerous chemicals to produce contaminated waste
water in the process of extracting gas from shale, are
easily fixed-not!

And it's as if the process of drilling for, extracting,
processing, transporting, storing, distributing and
burning fracked, as well as conventionally-produced,
natural gas is not an environmental hazard, a major
contributor to the dangerous heating up of the earth.
Over the past two years, a number of studies have
produced evidence that, indeed, natural gas is just
this:

-In 2010, and again in 2011, the Environmental
Protection Agency updated its estimates of greenhouse
gas leaks from the oil and gas industry. For the gas
industry, they increased their estimate of methane
leaks by an astounding 156% compared to their
previously estimated figures. And bear in mind that
methane, the primary component of natural gas, is at
least 72, more likely 105, times as powerful a
greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide over the first 20
years after it is released into the atmosphere.

-In April of last year Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro
and Anthony Ingraffea at Cornell University published a
groundbreaking analysis which estimated that between
3.6% and 7.9% of the methane from natural gas produced
via fracking is leaked into the atmosphere over the
entire life cycle of the gas, from production to
burning. This compares to a life cycle estimate for
conventional gas development of between 1.7% and 6%.
Howarth and his team used this information to project
that, over a 20 year period of time, "the greenhouse
gas footprint for shale gas is at least 20% greater
than and perhaps more than twice as great as that for
coal."

-In October of last year an analysis by Nathan Hultman
and others from the University of Maryland projected,
despite critical commentary about
Howarth/Santoro/Ingraffea's study, that over a 20 year
period the "greenhouse gas footprint of electricity
from unconventional gas [fracking], relative to that of
coal," is between approximately 97% and 119%.

-And just two weeks ago, in a February 7th article in
Scientific American, "Air Sampling Reveals High Methane
Emissions from Natural Gas Field," it was reported that
research done in Colorado backed up the conclusions of
Howarth and the others at Cornell: "Led by researchers
at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the
study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area
known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4%
of their gas to the atmosphere--not including
additional losses in the pipeline and distribution
system. This is more than double the official
inventory, but roughly in line with estimates made in
2011 that have been challenged by industry."

As President Obama said, it is true that "we don't have
to choose between our environment and our economy," but
that's not because natural gas in shale is a clean
fuel. Natural gas is a dirty fossil fuel that, new
studies are showing, is probably worse than coal when
it comes to its heating-up impact on our atmosphere,
especially in the next 20 years, the time period when
we absolutely must, on a worldwide basis, leave fossil
fuels behind as our primary energy sources.

"We don't have to choose" because when we get serious
about prioritizing conservation, energy efficiency and
renewable energy primarily from the sun, wind and earth
(geothermal), this will be a tremendous driver of
economic development while being good for our seriously
damaged natural environment.

We don't need an "all-out, all-of-the-above" energy
strategy. We need an "all-out,
reduce-fossil-fuels-and-onto-efficiency-and-renewables"
energy strategy.

It's kind-of like what Presidential candidate Obama
said on February 4th, 2008 in Newsweek: "We will have a
bold energy agenda that drastically reduces our
emission of greenhouse gases while creating a green
engine that can drive growth for many years to come."

The earth has been hard hit in the four years since
February, 2008 by weather disaster after weather
disaster clearly related to our disrupted climate. And
yet we are facing the prospect of a debate in 2012
between the two major party candidates over energy
policy in which little is said about this deepening
crisis or the genuinely clean energy solutions to it.

It is up to the climate movement and the movements
against extreme energy extraction to speak up and take
action loudly and clearly to force those who want to
lead us to respond. Let's shape the debate!


Ted Glick has been building the climate movement since
2004 and has been an activist and organizer for
progressive change since 1968. Past writings and more
information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he
can be followed on Twitter at
http://twitter.com/jtglick.

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