04 June 2012
Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, dealt a blow to the gas industry over the weekend, when spoke on climate change in Stockholm.
Clinton spoke about the Climate and Clean Air Coalition on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, or CCAC.
Hillary Clinton explained the background and purpose of a recent international initiative to slash emissions of methane, black soot and other pollutants that only live in the atmosphere for a very short time compared to carbon dioxide, but which cause 30% of global warming, over the short term.
When attention turns from carbon dioxide to the short lived pollutants, I believe that this will bring about a rational reappraisal of the widespread myth that gas is a clean ‘transition’ fuel, on the path from coal to renewable energy.
The gas industry must admit to its stakeholders, shareholders, government and the public that shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing is the fossil fuel with the biggest global warming impact.
Gas companies and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association are greenwashing Australia’s coal seam gas (CSG) as a low-pollution alternative to coal. This lie is structured in the form of a misleading omission.
What the industry argues is that when CSG-sourced gas is burned, the emissions are “up to 70%” less than emissions caused by coal. The omission is that this fails to take into account the methane leaked into the atmosphere by the CSG process. These ‘fugitive’ emissions are more damaging than the avoided emissions prevented by not burning coal.
Robert W. Howarth is a US academic who co-authored a paper in the journal Nature last year, which asked whether these greenwashed impacts were so great that CSG should be stopped altogether. (See this crucial graph showing that shale gas is worse for the climate than coal.)
Howarth stated the issue clearly in his testimony on New York State’s regulation of shale gas
The latest scientific information leads to the strong conclusion that shale gas has the largest greenhouse gas footprint of any fossil fuel, when emissions of methane gas are fully considered and the consequences evaluated at time scales of 50 years or less following emission…
Australia’s coal seams and the gas they contain are not the same as US shale deposits and the gas they contain, so we need research done to quantify the greenhouse chemistry of our deposits. (Western Australia’s Department of Mines and Petroleum provides some useful definitions of shale, tight and coal seam gas.)