The Facts On Fracking

Lisa Margonelli regrets that “we are stuck in a bipolar discussion that casts fracking as either a panacea for the economy or as death to the environment”:

Well-regulated, fracked natural gas could be a plus for the environment—particularly if it were coupled with a ban on coal. The extraction of coal via mountaintop removal is extraordinarily damaging to the environment. Power plants that burn coal emit more radiation into neighborhoods around them than do nuclear power plants, and fine particle pollution from coal-powered plants costs 13,000 lives a year, while producing an enormous quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. Coal, arguably, really does equal death. Fracking is not pretty, but there is more than one principled environmental conversation to have about it.

Relatedly, Lynne Peeples highlights opposition from anti-fracking groups to Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Energy, MIT professor Ernie Moniz:

Moniz, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative, has chaired fracking studies funded by oil and gas companies and with members of industry as advisors. His team’s widely cited May 2011 report called natural gas the “bridge to a low-carbon future.” … “What Moniz has said appears to indicate that he does not understand climate science and the influence of fossil fuels,” said [Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University]. “I find that scary. Either he is a repeating the industry mantra, which raises concern over an apparent conflict of interest, or he is not aware of the science. If he’s going to take the position, he better understand the best science.”

Brad Plumer provides more specifics on Moniz’s position:

He outlined his views at length during a 2011 Senate hearing on a report he co-authored, “The Future of Natural Gas.” “In broad terms,” Moniz testified, “we find that, given the large amounts of natural gas available in the U.S. at moderate cost … natural gas can indeed play an important role over the next couple of decades (together with demand management) in economically advancing a clean energy system.”

Here’s how this “bridge” is supposed to work: In the near future, cheap natural gas will elbow aside coal in the U.S. electricity sector. Since burning natural gas for electricity emits about half the carbon-dioxide that burning coal does, this will curtail U.S. emissions a bit. (Indeed, that’s already happening.) That, in turn, buys us some time to make the more arduous shift to even cleaner forms of energy, like solar or wind or even nuclear.