Stanford researchers say study highlights policies and practices could optimize hydraulic fracking’s environmental cost-benefit balance
WASHINGTON- API Upstream and Industry Operations Director Erik Milito touted the environmental benefits of hydraulic fracturing in a conference call with reporters today.
“Hydraulic fracturing has allowed us to drill our way to reduced GHG emissions, reduced criteria pollutants, reduced reliance on imported energy, and lower gasoline prices,” said Milito. “This American story is as real as the science is sound.”
In 1999, the Department of Energy identified hydraulic fracturing as an advanced technology that provides environmental benefits in their report entitled Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Technology.
Not everyone agrees though. According to a study done in July 2015 by Prof Klaus Hubacek from the University of Maryland, it was a mistake to link the increase in natural gas replacing coal to a decrease in GHG emissions.
“We couldn’t see that gas was the real driver(to lower GHG emissions). What we can show is that the main driver has been the level of consumption, GDP per capita. The decrease in this was the main driver. Gas was a driver but a very minor one,” said Prof Hubacek told BBC.
According to the BBC article, researchers claimed coal being replaced by natural gas in the US, will still be extracted and exported to places like China so therefore GHG emissions will still net increase.
“The other question is what happens with the coal that the gas displaces – if you take it out of the ground, it’s going to be used somewhere. The whole gas story doesn’t make a difference,” said Hubacek.
A dubious claim at best, seeing as how China’s coal consumption peaked in 2013, fell by about 3 percent in 2014, and fell another 4 to 5 percent over the first 11 months of 2015. It will no doubt continue to fall as China’s air quality has become dangerous from using coal in electricity generation.
There are numerous studies indicating fracking as increasing GHG emissions, and numerous studies that claim the opposite.
A study published by Stanford University in Oct. 2014, analysed 165 different academic studies, and found there can be health and environmental benefits to fracking, especially when the natural gas replaces coal.
The researchers claim when natural gas replaces coal as a fuel for generating electricity, the benefits to air quality include lower carbon dioxide emissions than coal and almost none of the mercury, sulfur dioxide or ash which affects air quality.
The researchers also pressed that fracking needs to follow guidelines and regulations so not to effect water quality and waste water should never be used for agricultural purposes.
While opponents also claim fracking leads to water contamination of drinking wells, a five-year, multi-million dollar report by the U.S. EPA confirmed that hydraulic fracturing is safe, thanks to the effectiveness of state and federal regulations, and current industry practices.
During the initial peer review process, several members of EPA’s Science Advisory Board Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel agreed that hydraulic fracturing leads to no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.
The Stanford researchers say their study highlights several policies and practices that could optimize fracking’s environmental cost-benefit balance, and it highlights the need for further research.
While the EIA has determined that hydraulic fracturing does not widely contaminate water as environmentalists claimed, the jury is still out on whether hydraulic fracturing increases or decreases GHG emissions on a net basis.