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Ending fracking’s methane releases is crucial to averting a climate crisis — News & Observer

Op-Ed by Jim Warren

The asteroid cluster has been hurtling toward Earth for decades, monitored warily by scientists. Early debris is already harming millions of people, and the impacts are accelerating. Engineers know how to steer the cluster away from direct impact. But the government is barely willing to discuss the challenge, and entrenched corporations are stuck in delusion that they’ll somehow keep building stock value as people and nature are devastated.

Suddenly, scientists find a way to slow the asteroids, buying humanity more time. But no one passes along the hopeful news.

Is it sci-fi? A really bad dream? Or a metaphor for global warming?

Climate change has been in the news lately, partly due to Donald Trump’s attacks on science. Still, there’s little mention of the extreme urgency or the key drivers of the crisis. And nobody’s telling us the very hopeful news that scientists recently learned how to lower the risk of total chaos: reduce methane emissions from fracking.

Here’s what the leading science says on critical fronts:

▪ An unprecedented, three-year global heat wave continues, with 2016 breaking the all-time average heat record set the year before. Weather extremes increasingly ravage communities worldwide, including a series of floods that hammered eastern North Carolina last fall, followed by devastating wildfires in our mountains.

▪ The incredible rate of recent warming is largely due not to the usual suspect, carbon dioxide, but to the build-up of super-potent methane, which traps 80 to 100 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

▪ Methane (natural gas) is spewing into the air from the U.S. fracking boom, which is driven by the massive expansion of gas-burning by Duke Energy and other utilities.

▪ The “point of no return,” beyond which ongoing global suffering would intensify to even higher levels, through runaway heating and cascading weather disasters, will arrive within a very few years.

▪ We can – and must – slow global warming by curbing methane emissions from the natural gas industry. Simultaneously, we must call out the Koch brothers, Duke Energy executives and others who are impeding the growth of cheaper renewables so they can keep building fracked-gas power plants and raising customer rates.

Why isn’t our society discussing this?

Fracking boom

The fracking boom of recent years – which poisons air and water in thousands of communities and causes earthquakes – has also accelerated the climate crisis at the worst possible time. The good news is that scientists say reducing methane emissions can slow warming in the crucial short term, buying more time to replace fossil fuels with renewables and slowing deforestation.

Capturing the large amounts of methane leaking and being vented into the air from outdated equipment and lax practices in the natural gas industry is cost-effective and creates jobs, as documented by the Environmental Defense Fund. But gas and power industry executives are fighting against regulation.

Are they also suppressing the methane-climate discussion?

Since 2015, NC WARN has worked with Cornell scientists and others to foster open public discussion of how the gas and electric industries’ methane pollution is driving the climate crisis. Fracking propaganda sells shale gas as “energy security” and a “cleaner-burning bridge fuel” between coal and renewables when, in reality, methane emissions make fracked gas three times as bad for the climate as coal.

Even as bizarre U.S. weather has ranged from prominent to dominant in the media for years, a gauzy veil somehow disconnects the devastation – and the balmy North Carolina winter – from well-documented climate changes that are accelerating.

North Carolina desperately needs debate about what this state can do to help slow the asteroid, not least because we’re home to Duke Energy. The largest U.S. carbon polluter remains a clean energy laggard – with renewable power still less than one percent of its generation in the Carolinas – despite the prodigious green-washing ads.

Sci-fi twist

Ready for the sci-fi plot twist? The massive shift by power companies to burn more fracked gas is premised on industry claims that underground supplies are virtually infinite, a gross exaggeration considered “pixie dust” by prominent analysts who warn that the shale gas supply is a fraction of what the industry and its captive regulators allege. In fact, fracked gas production peaked in February 2016 despite enhanced techniques to squeeze more gas from the shale rock.

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