By Robert M. Ciesielski
The Sierra Club thanks President Obama for acknowledging the existence of climate change and that major fossil fuels are major contributors to the global climate disruption. The president spoke with the support of 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists who have been warning of human-created climate change for years.
The president should also be commended for his support of renewable energy development in America. Wind, solar and geothermal power are able to slow the ravages of climate change by halting the release of carbon dioxide and methane gas. Renewable energy also creates job, manufacturing and investment growth. Germany has 390,000 renewable energy jobs. Comparing populations, this would translate into 1.5 million good-paying U.S. jobs.
So why did informational picketers opposing high-volume horizontal gas fracking greet the president throughout his recent tour of upstate New York? The reason is that the president has also mentioned supporting methane gas as a “clean” fuel that may aid in the area of climate change. When burned, methane produces only one-half the carbon dioxide of coal.
However, the government’s own NASA research has shown that methane gas is at least 72 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years of its release to the atmosphere. One pound of methane traps as much heat as at least 72 pounds of carbon dioxide. Any release of unburned methane of over 2 percent makes the gas a much more dangerous contributor to global climate change than burning coal or oil. Early this year the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured methane release in horizontal fracking gas fields in the West. The NOAA study showed leakage of methane of anywhere from 2.3 percent to 17 percent of the annual production of the extracted gas in California, Utah and Colorado.
The president has said that “curbing emissions of methane is critical.” He said that he hopes the current level of methane leakage can be corrected, echoing industry claims. But the inherent leakage of high-pressure gas fracking makes a solution improbable. A number of drilling industry studies show that some 5 percent of horizontally fracked wells leak immediately and that the number increases with time.
The position of the state Sierra Club is that renewable energy development and efficiency are the best means of halting the global climate disruption that is already here. Increased methane fracking will only exacerbate climate change and continue our use of fossil fuels. We have a moral obligation to others, future generations and the Earth to begin using available renewable energy technologies now.
Robert M. Ciesielski of Buffalo is Energy Committee chairman of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.