Effects on Global Climate and Hydrologic Cycle: Because natural gas burns cleaner than coal it has been heavily promoted as a “bridge fuel” to our renewable energy future. If shale gas presented a real opportunity to effectively address climate change we would need to give it serious consideration. But full-cycle analyses (including fugitive emissions of methane during mining and transportation) of greenhouse gas impacts of different fossil fuels indicate that shale gas produces more warming than coal(12). And recent field measurements from a Colorado gas field indicate that methane leakage is even greater than previously estimated (13)

Human society is now estimated to combust about 100,000 years of plant growth annually, fueling the increasing carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere (1). Climate scientists have concluded that we are beyond the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide and that immediate action is required to avoid irreversible “tipping points” within the next couple decades that will lead to a drastically altered global climate (14)

Climate change has already altered regional hydrological cycles and this would amplify with further warming (15)


Read "Gangplank to a Warm Future" by Anthony R. Ingraffea

"As a longtime oil and gas engineer who helped develop shale fracking techniques for the Energy Department, I can assure you that this gas is not “clean.” Because of leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, the gas extracted from shale deposits is not a “bridge” to a renewable energy future — it’s a gangplank to more warming and away from clean energy investments.(more) "

Anthony R. Ingraffea is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University and the president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, a nonprofit group.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 29, 2013, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: Gangplank To a Warm Future

Global Climate and Hydrologic Cycle References: 

1. Tompkins County Council of Governments. 2011. Community impact assessment: High volume hydraulic fracturing: http://www.tompkins-co.org/tccog/ 

12. Howarth, R.W., R. Santoro, and A. Ingraffea. 2012. Venting and leaking of methane from shale gas development: response to Cathles et al. Climatic  Change  (doi:10.1007/s10584-012-0401-0). 

13. Petron, G. et al. 2012. Hydrocarbon emissions characterization in the Colorado Front Range – A pilot study. Journal of Geophysical Research (doi: 10.1029/2011JD016360) 

14. Hansen J, Sato M, Kharecha P, Russell G, Lea DW, and Siddall M. 2007. Climate change and trace gases. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365: 1925–1954. (doi:10.1098/rsta.2007.2052) 

15. Hayhoe, K., C.P. Wake, T.G. Huntington, L. Luo, M.D. Schwartz, J. Sheffield, E. Wood, B. Anderson, J. Bradbury, A. DeGaetano, T.J. Troy, and D. Wolfe. 2006. Past and future changes in climate and hydrological indicators in the U.S. Northeast. Climate Dynamics (doi: 10.1007/s00382-006-0187-8).