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Study: Shale drilling is environmentally harmful

FINGER LAKES—According to a Cornell University study, published in the May issue of Climate Change Letters, drilling for Marcellus Shale is more harmful to the environment than coal, diesel oil, or conventional gas due to methane gas.
According to Cornell University, it is the first peer-reviewed study on this subject.  It was written by Robert Howarth, Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Tony Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, and Renee Santoro, a research technician in ecology and evolutionary biology.
Howarth said the study was initiated based on gas companies’ claims that Marcellus Shale is clean energy.  However, he said upon looking into it, there were no studies to back up that claim.
“The large GHG (greenhouse gas) 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,” findings read in the conclusion.  “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.”
The specific focus is methane gas being released into the atmosphere.  The study says high estimates of drilling for Marcellus Shale may release more methane in a 20-year timeline than other energy sources do.  The paper also says these methane emissions during the lifetime of a shale gas well are at least 30 percent more than those from conventional gas. The higher emissions occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured - as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids - and during drill out following the fracturing.  Howarth said between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of methane leaks are within the first week of hydrofracking.
The study says methane is so potent because it is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide. Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon.
At the end of the study, the researchers say it may be possible to reduce methane emissions through use of better storage tanks and compressors and through improved monitoring for leaks.
The study is available online




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