By Nick Stracco

President Barack Obama has outlined his second-term plan to address climate change. While the president laid out some positive actions that put us on the right path, including calling for an end to the limitless amount of carbon pollution that power plants can pump into the atmosphere and committing the Department of Defense to increase its percentage of energy that comes from clean and renewable sources, he continues to champion an all-of-the-above strategy that undermines our ability to shift away from the very fuels responsible for warming and polluting our atmosphere.  And the president’s plan reaffirms his embrace of risky fracked natural gas.

Replacing One Bad Fuel for Another
While many of his plans are where we need to be heading, the president’s support of natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports takes us in the wrong direction. Increasing natural gas exploration means increasing fracking. While the natural gas industry touts its fossil fuel as “clean-burning,” this rapidly expanding energy source must be carefully studied at every stage of its life cycle, not just its combustion. Proponents of natural gas like to claim that it can replace dirty coal plants and reduce America’s carbon footprint. But scientific studies show that fracking’s release of greenhouse gases is as significant as coal-fired generators.

During the process of hydraulic fracturing, a percentage of the gas escapes into the atmosphere. These “fugitive gases” are extremely important because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to a Cornell study, in a 20-year timeframe methane is 105 times as powerful as carbon dioxide at trapping solar energy in the atmosphere.

One study from Princeton and the Environmental Defense Fund concludes that natural gas can have immediate greenhouse gas benefits only if the fugitive gases are below 3.2 percent of total harvested gas. Early studies are showing that fugitive gases are higher than that figure, from 3.6 percent to 7.9 percent, according to a Cornell study, to the whopping 9 percent reported at an American Geophysical Union meeting recently in San Francisco. Clearly, if these studies are indicative of fracking wells across the country, the president’s plan to switch from coal to natural gas is indeed a step backwards.

Other Problems with Fracking
Fugitive gases are not the only problem with fracking. Fracking fluids contain sand, water and dangerous chemicals that natural gas companies do not have to disclose to the public while they pump them into the ground. These chemicals have been shown to be fatal for livestock exposed to them for as little as one hour.  Fracking is also extremely water intensive, requiring up to 6 million gallons of water for a single well. This excessive use of water puts stress on communities that rely on these fresh water supplies for drinking water. The water is shipped in by diesel trucks, further adding to the carbon footprint of the process.

Why So Secret?
Among the worst of the problems with fracking is what is called a non-disclosure agreement. When natural gas companies lease land from homeowners, they include a clause in the contract that acts as a gag rule, prohibiting the homeowner from speaking publicly about any groundwater contamination that may occur. If fracking is as safe as the industry claims, why does it go to such lengths to keep these homeowners quiet?

The Building Nationwide Resistance to Fracking
While some environmental advocates were encouraged by Obama’s speech, many others felt thrown under the natural gas-powered bus. Affected communities across America are stepping up in opposition to fracking to protect the health of themselves and their children. Stop The Frack Attack, a growing network of 140 organizations that represent the communities affected by fracking, has come out in strong opposition to Obama’s plan because of its heavy support of fracking.

Backing Fracking Undercuts Obama’s Goal  
Obama used strong words to underline the grave necessity of taking bold action on climate change. However, pushing his climate agenda as one that includes hydraulic fracturing contradicts and undermines his claimed desire to transition to “a low-carbon, clean economy.” As he said himself, “We can’t just drill our way out of the energy and climate challenge we face.” He’s right, whether one is talking about an oil drill or a fracking drill.

Comments

  • Thomas Sherry

    Nice job, and well said, Nick! Obama can’t have it both ways on climate change and the environment, although he’s up against strong political headwinds in favor of fracking and natural gas from across the country. We would help Obama help the environment by speaking out for renewables, and whatever the feds can do to provide incentives and a level playing field for growing reliance on renewable energy sources.

  • AndieJayy

    YO TACO Sweet blog post. As much as I wish it were feasible for the US to just give up on carbon releasing fuels or significantly tax them I think Obama’s plan is pretty sound. Even though this is an environmental issue, the economics of the energy source are very important to consider. While many consumers would be fine paying a lot more to ensure we’re getting the cleanest electricity, many manufacturers probably aren’t. If the price of electricity becomes substantially cheaper in China or other developing countries, factories will move there. While the energy produced in the US isn’t the cleanest, the electricity in China or india will make it look like it is and after all that is where the biggest increase in emissions are taking place. In order for change to be sustainable, it has to be incremental. Finally placing regulations on the CO2 emissions of power plants is a small but important step and hopefully sets the stage for more change to come.

  • G. Wayne Hild

    Andiejayy couldn’t be more wrong. It sounds as if he’s either misinformed or a shill for the fossil fuel industry. Either way he’ll be changing his tune later rather than sooner. Too bad.

  • Solange

    Fracking is not “Replacing One Bad Fuel for another”. It is replacing one bad fuel for a worse one. This time the pollution will be not only in the air but in the soil, water table and under structures. America will be rotting mentally, financially and now physically. I guess this is when the rats will leave the ship for better place to live.
    What has happened to the American fighting spirit? People wring their hands and moan but just huddle down and bear it. Perhaps the time has come to return the wretched statue, it has become meaningless. I have been fighting for years and still am … by myself more or less.
    A French American.

  • Bill Roberson

    Besides the questionable claims as to natural gas being cleaner, it is often touted as a “bridge” to renewable energy sources. There is no bridge. It would replace coal and oil with another fossil fuel. Once the gas infrastructure is in place, there is less incentive to change once again to renewable sources. More importantly, with greenhouse gases continuing to accumulate, there is no time. There is no need for a “bridge”, current (and developing) clean energy technology makes it possible now. Germany and other countries are on course to significantly replace fossil fuels with renewable sources. The difference between Germany and the U.S. is that “Germany has a national vision and commitment to renewable energy. Over the past decade, Germany’s political leaders — backed by strong popular support — have made renewable generation the cornerstone of its energy future. Successive governments have used stable and long-term policies to turn this into a reality. This has created an atmosphere in which renewable energy investment is considered a safe choice, not a risky one.” For more, see:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-15/u-s-energy-policy-should-take-a-lesson-from-germany-s-energiewende.html

    The biggest obstacle in the U.S. is the political muscle of the fossil fuel industry.

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