Some oppose shale gas because it is a fossil fuel, a source of carbon dioxide. Some are concerned by accounts of the fresh water it needs, by flaming faucets, by leaked “fugitive methane”, by pollution of the ground with fracking fluid and by damaging earthquakes. Although I believe that global warming is real, caused by humans, and a threat to our future, these concerns about shale gas are either largely false or can be addressed by appropriate regulation such as the controversial but ultimately positive developments in Illinois.
Shale gas can not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also reduce a deadly pollution known as particulate matter. Particulate matter is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers, referred to as PM 2.5, are believed to be the most dangerous of these particles as they can lodge deeply into the lungs. Greenhouse warming is widely acknowledged as a serious long-term threat, but PM2.5 is currently harming more people. PM 2.5 is currently killing over three million people each year, including roughly 75,000 in the U.S.
This air pollution has been largely ignored because PM2.5 was an unrecognized danger until recently; only in 1997 did it become part of the US National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The National Energy Technology Laboratory has established that compared to coal, shale gas results in a 400- fold reduction of PM2.5, a 4,000-fold reduction in sulphur dioxide, a 70-fold reduction in nitrous oxides (NOx), and more than a 30-fold reduction in mercury.
As both global warming and air pollution can be mitigated by the development and utilization of shale gas, shale gas technology should be advanced as rapidly as possible. Environmentalists should recognize the shale gas revolution as beneficial to society – and lend their full support to helping it advance.
Should environmentalists support fracking? Can shale gas limit air pollution? Please share your views.
For more information on this topic, please see my report “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking”