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Natural Gas Fracking Under Increasing Pressure

The Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” featured dramatic clips of people whose tap water could be set on fire, apparently a side effect of “fracking,” a method of opening up fissures deep underground to unlock natural gas.

A new Duke study backs up these residents’ woes, finding that drinking water near fracking sites had average methane levels 17 times higher than normal. (Natural gas is mainly composed of methane.) The methane in the water wells also had a chemical signature that showed it was from deep underground, where companies are doing fracking.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration formed a blue ribbon panel to look into fracking safety. France had already put a temporary freeze on drilling into shale gas and oil formations, and now their National Assembly has passed a bill to ban exploration for shale gas or oil.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

The summary of a major report on renewable energy from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was leaked earlier in draft form, and has now been published and has generated a lot of discussion. Some touted the study’s findings that by mid-century, renewable energy could power at least 80 percent of projected energy demand, while others pointed out this was based on the most optimistic of the study’s 160 scenarios. So far, only the 25-page summary has been released; details to back up the study’s conclusions will await publication of the full 1,000-page report.

The IPCC report included biomass as a major player in the future of renewable energy. But today’s biofuels can be worse for the climate than conventional fossil fuels, according to a new study, because of the emissions from clearing land, growing crops, and processing the plants to turn them into fuel.

Backing Away from Nuclear

Japan’s prime minister announced the country will abandon plans to expand nuclear power, and it will “start from scratch” on a new energy policy that puts more emphasis on renewables.

As a response to the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactors, Germany temporarily shut down its seven oldest nuclear power plants. The New York Times reports a panel appointed by Chancellor Angela Merkel has recommended closing all of Germany’s nuclear reactors within a decade—reactors that currently provide about one-fifth of the country’s electricity.

In the U.K., the Committee on Climate Change, a group advising the U.K. government, recommended building more nuclear power plants, as well as relying on wind turbines, to meet the country’s greenhouse gas emission goals.

The U.K.’s existing policies won’t meet those goals, according to a new assessment—but a massive new energy bill is wending its way through the U.K. Parliament that aims to boost emissions cuts. The bill now carries an additional measure that aims to seal up the country’s famously drafty homes, by making it illegal for landlords to rent their properties unless they meet energy efficiency standards.

Weather Woes

Swathes of the U.S. South and Midwest have been socked by wild weather this spring. First, the areas suffered 800 tornadoes in April. Now the Mississippi is flooding with the highest levels on record in some regions—and global warming has likely played a role in the flooding, since rainfall in the region has risen 10 to 20 percent over the past century, said meteorologist Jeff Masters. The floods would likely break records along the length of the river if it weren’t for controlled levee breaches that have released water onto spillways and farmland. Perhaps it is time, argues Good, to follow in the footsteps of the Dutch, with their “Room for the River” policy, and give up more ground to rivers to adapt to climate change.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Comments

  1. R West
    February 4, 2013, 3:20 am

    Dear Sirs,
    I cant believe ntgeo is funding another gasland movie. I thought ntgeo stood for the truth. Unbelievable, you might as well start broadcasting crap like Honey Boo Boo. Disappointed in ntgeo.

  2. Harquebus
    Adelaide
    May 16, 2011, 1:43 am

    “Not Easy Being Green”. Try impossible.
    Plant lots and lots of trees. The survivors of peak oil will thank you.

  3. Julienne du Toit
    May 13, 2011, 12:10 pm

    I think it’s highly significant that South Africa has declared a moratorium on fracking, despite enormous corporate pressure. And this is in a country that is energy-hungry and certainly no stranger to mining.

    In a water-poor country like South Africa, the dilemma is so much clearer: water or gas. Which can we live without?

  4. Dennis Xander
    Buckhannon, WV
    May 13, 2011, 10:22 am

    This post erroneously claims: “The methane in the water wells also had a chemical signature that showed it was from deep underground, where companies are doing fracking.”. This is 100% WRONG! The “chemical signature” proved conclusively that the gas from water taps DID NOT come from the fractured formations. It is this kind of irresponsible reporting by inexperienced environmental extremists that is causing us to pay $4 for a gallon of gasoline. Shame on Mason Inman!~

  5. Chris Salmon
    Vail, CO
    May 12, 2011, 7:04 pm

    The Duke study doesn’t implicate hydraulic fracturing as a likely cause of the methane concentrations found. In fact the authors admit they don’t know why the concentrations are what they are. As they state:

    “More research is needed across this and other regions
    to determine the mechanism(s) controlling the higher methane concentrations we observed.”