Friday, December 16, 2011

Why add more methane (GHG) leaks from Fracking when our existing gas system is a clunker?


This article by NPR begs an interesting question given that New York State is about to end the moratorium on Fracking: How much gas (methane) is normally leaked into our atmosphere via the existing system of gas pipes in our state, or our country for that matter?

Boston's Leaky Gas Lines May Be Tough On The Trees : NPR A scientist in Boston has been driving around the city measuring leaks in the gas mains. He's found a lot, and he wants the public to know where they are. Gas leaks aren't uncommon, and gas companies spend a lot of time tracking them down and repairing them. But the scientific team says they're surprised at how many they've found, and what those leaks are doing to the health of the city's trees. (November 21, 2011) NPR : National Public Radio

So, I asked myself, what is the present state of natural gas leaking greenhouse gases (GHG) including the methane gas (CH4), one of the most potent GHG from our existing gas system? It could be quite a significant contributor to Climate Change, even without hydrofracking. One source estimated that:

“Recent measurements indicate that urban emissions are a significant source of CH4 and in fact may be substantially higher than current inventory estimates. As such, urban emissions could contribute 7-15 percent to the global anthropogenic budget of methane.” (May 13, 2011) BU RESEARCHERS IDENTIFY EXTENSIVE METHANE LEAKS UNDER STREETS OF BOSTON » Gas Safety USA

That’s a lot of GHG coming from a potential energy sources in NYS just from our existing system. But, I wanted to be sure so I asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just to be sure. Here was their answer via an email:

Pipeline leaks in the United States accounted for about 8 billion cubic feet of methane emissions in 2009, a small but important contribution to the 346 billion cubic feet of methane emitted by the U.S. oil and gas industry that year (see for a breakdown of emission sources and pie charts showing the relative contribution of each source).

“Small”? Eight billion cubic feet of methane emissions in 2009 from the normal usage of our natural gas system doesn’t sound small to me. But what do I know?

And, as long as I’m asking myself questions, how about this question? How much natural gas would we save if we tightened up our existing gas system so it wouldn’t contribute to GHG releases and maybe stop the need for Fracking?

Again, who knows? It probably doesn’t make much difference anyway because despite the release of GHG’s already in the pipes the state and the gas companies want to drill–baby-drill even though we New Yorkers probably won’t see any of that Fracking gas because prices here in the states are too low so it will all get shipped to a place that will pay more. But those GHG will eventually end up in our atmosphere because even if there isn’t even the teeny weenist leak in the system, you still burn gas for energy and that releases GHG to our atmosphere.

When you’re buying a used car, you take the clunker for a ride checking to see if there is an oil leak and trying to figure out whether it’s worth purchasing this cheap car, rather than a new one, based on how much damage the clunker is going to do to your wallet. At least if you buy sensibly. Using this metaphor, why would we in New York State engage in a more dicey form of natural gas extraction when natural gas is already costing our environment in the release of GHG?

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