Anti-Fracking Flights of Fancy

Anti-fracking activists will go to great lengths to weave an alarming narrative from mundane facts. It worked for them in the UK, which enacted a fracking ban in 2019. Going forward, Americans who value low energy prices and a strong domestic oil and natural gas industry need to watch for similar tactics from our press and politicians.

From The Independent (UK), November 5:

Climate crisis: Lancashire fracking site ‘leaked emissions equivalent to 142 transatlantic flights’
(When I read that headline, dozens of airliners were cutting chemtrail donuts in my head. Holy cow! Sounds like a lot of environmental damage! Read on…)

Fracking for shale gas in the UK has, for now, come to a halt with little interest from the government in pursuing the fossil fuel after drilling prompted a national outcry, huge local opposition and regular earthquakes.

Drilling by the company Cuadrilla ceased in Lancashire in September 2019, but not before a considerable amount of the powerful greenhouse gas methane leaked into the earth’s atmosphere, a new study suggests. …

Professor Grant Allen, professor of atmospheric physics and leader of the project at the University of Manchester, said: “Our work shows that atmospheric monitoring of shale gas activity is crucial to meaningfully assess any role that the industry may have in the UK’s future energy mix and whether it can (or cannot) be consistent with the UK’s stated aim of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2015.” [Emphasis added.]

Correcting the good professor: 1) the UK has a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 2) 2015 was nearly six years ago. (Does anyone proofread this stuff?)

Methane (CH4) is a lighter-than-air gas, the main constituent of natural gas, now our nation’s biggest source of electricity. How much of it was lost in the January 2019 event? The subhead says 4.2 tonnes, which a handy online calculator equates to about 268,000 standard cubic feet. That sounds like a lot, but at today’s wholesale price it’s worth around $800.

But still, 142 transatlantic flights sounds like a lot of planes in the air; let’s check that number out, too.

One kilogram of methane is the global warming equivalent of 28 kg of CO2, according to climate scientists. The 4.2 tonnes of CH4 equate to 118 tonnes of CO2 in terms of climate-damaging potential. According to this website, a single one-way economy ticket from New York to London has a carbon “footprint” of 0.81 tonnes of CO2.

118 tonnes ÷ 0.81 tonnes per passenger = 145 economy passengers, by my calculation.

Do you see what they did there?

The Independent’s blaring headline had me thinking we were talking about 142 jet crossings of the Atlantic, and you were likely thinking the same. In fact, their factoid refers to the carbon footprint of 142 passengers, not planes, crossing the Atlantic.

“Climate Crisis”? Hardly.

The abstract, the original paper, and a list of its 19 authors are available here. (The authors use a CH4 to CO2 factor of 34, not 28. Their footprint metrics are found on page 10 of the paper: “Alternatively, equivalence can be drawn with 142 London–New York flights (BEIS 2019).” So the researchers are responsible for the ambiguity that the journalists dutifully turned into headlines.)

It is not clear if “transatlantic flights” has been submitted as a standard unit of measure in the SI system.

A spokesman for the well operator Cuadrilla offered a “Yank-friendly” measure of the climate-threatening impact:

[The] volume of methane emitted was small, being approximately equivalent to the annual emissions of a herd of 50 cows.

Here in the U.S., we use a similar measure, the “DiCaprio”, equivalent to exactly 100 cow-years of methane. Cuadrilla’s offending emission thus measured 0.5 DiCaprios.

The opposition to domestic oil and gas is vocal and well-funded. They are not above stretching the truth, or manufacturing it out of whole cloth when necessary; whatever supports the narrative they’re trying to sell. They are often abetted by lazy journalists. My goal is to expose their errors, distortions, and outright lies for the benefit of the average citizen.

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