Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been good for the planet by sharply reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said Monday.
“The increased production of oil and natural gas in the United States has, obviously, been a major story in terms of our economy, and also our environment,” Moniz said at an event in Seattle. “The natural gas boom, in particular, has led to the displacement of high-carbon coal with low-carbon natural gas producing fewer [carbon dioxide] emissions.”
Moniz was testifying at a field hearing put on by Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Moniz’s comments come as environmentalists revive challenges to a major five-year study by the EPA that found fracking had not led to widespread water contamination.
Environmentalist point to a recent challenge to the study by the EPA’s own science adviser board. Science advisers said EPA hadn’t given enough quantitative evidence to support its mainline findings. Some members of the panel, however, said the report was “clear, unambiguous, concise, and does not need to be changed or modified.”
EPA’s study rejected environmentalist claims of widespread water contamination and found that, overall, fracking wasn’t creating a major water pollution problem. Environmentalists responded to the study, saying, “millions of Americans know that fracking contaminates groundwater and for the EPA to report any differently only proves that the greatest contamination from the industry comes from its influence and ownership of our government.”
America’s CO2 emissions have fallen by 12 percent since their high in 2005. Reports published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a Department of Energy agency, found that fracking is the primary reason for the decline in American CO2 emissions. Natural gas emits about half the CO2 of coal power, and is already cheaper than coal in many locations due to fracking. The EIA estimates roughly 68 percent of the falling CO2 emissions are due to the switch from coal to natural gas.
Even the EPA has noted that rising natural gas use is responsible for falling greenhouse gas emissions, saying in an April report, “a decrease in the carbon intensity of fuels consumed to generate electricity has occurred due to … increased natural gas consumption and other generation sources.”
Fracking cut more CO2 emissions than solar or wind power, according to a study published last November by the Manhattan Institute. The study shows solar power is responsible for 1 percent of the decline in American CO2 emissions, while natural gas is responsible for nearly 20 percent. For every ton of CO2 cut by solar power, fracking cuts 13 tons.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups assert that the environmental advantages of fracking are negated by increased methane emissions, but this claim isn’t supported by science. The 75 scientific studies published over the last five years found that methane emissions from the natural gas industry are sharply falling, even though production of natural gas has spiked. Absolute methane emissions from natural gas fell by 15 percent between 1990 and 2014, and emissions per unit of natural gas produced dropped by 43 percent over the same period.
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