For decades, natural gas (methane) has been touted as a greener energy alternative to coal, when, according to a new Cornell University study, in considering its whole lifecycle, natural gas appears to be worse for climate change than the coal industry and is more toxic to the environment and human health.
The driver of gas' green halo is true: methane burns cleaner than coal, thus contributing less to global warming during combustion. However, the hydraulic fracturing process — the only way industry knows to get the gas that's left — releases significant amounts of methane, unburned, directly into the atmosphere. When methane isn't burned, it's 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Combine that with the 1,000 truck trips, on average, 2 million to 8 million gallons of water, and 10,000 to 40,000 gallons of chemicals used per well.
Sixty percent of those chemicals can harm the brain and nervous system, 40 percent are known endocrine disrupters, 30 percent are suspected carcinogens, 30 percent are developmental toxicants. In fact, the natural gas industry is the only industry that permanently removes water from the natural water cycle.
In Colorado, where the industry has a long history and is expanding rapidly, there are more than 5,000 documented spills of toxic chemicals or "produced" fracking water. One thousand of those spills occurred in Weld County alone and research shows that more than 43 percent of them have impacted rivers and drinking water sources. In Erie, elementary school children study with a noisy, dusty, toxin-filled well 350 feet from their school. Not surprisingly, they have rapidly rising asthma rates, bloody noses, and increasing GI tract issues.
Up until the last decade, we were able to poke holes in the ground and "strike it rich." Today, all of the easy-to-get petroleum and gas is gone and we're turning to these extreme, toxic extractive measures like offshore drilling and fracking to get the goods. Why aren't we instead turning rapidly to renewable energy sources?