Alarm bells are sounding over new research that shows that methane leaks from natural gas and oil fracking is spewing more greenhouse gases, mainly as methane (CH4), into the atmosphere than previously believed.
CH4 has 86 times the greenhouse gas effect as does CO2 over a 20 year period. The result of these fracking leaks is a catastrophic increase in GHGs that undercuts previous forecasts on GHG emissions and the pace of climate change. Moreover, they show that the EPA and the oil and gas industry have repeatedly played fast and loose with the climate threat caused by fracking (the EPA, finally recognizing this disastrous mistake, are now trying to make amends). Many scientists have been yelling about the methane leakage problem for years now but Big Media has largely ignored their warnings, while propagating the idiotic pretense that no-nothing climate change deniers and the petroleum industry’s paid hacks and purchased politicians deserve equal time to dispute with the genuine scientific community.
In 2014, I attended the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual meeting, the biggest gathering of earth scientists in the world, which takes place early each December in San Francisco. There, the research of more than 20,000 earth and space scientists (and their non-attending colleagues) is shared with other scientists and the public. When the total number of scientific contributors to the this event is taken into account, the number of expert participants stretches into the many tens of thousands – the biggest such communication event between earth scientists in the world (none of whom, so far as I could tell at innumerable meetings, thinks that man-made global warming isn’t an existential threat and massive crisis).
At the AGU I attended several talks where scientists revealed their measurements, tracked with instruments on airplanes and other ways, of methane emissions from fracking sites across the United States. Every talk punctuated the fact that leaked emissions were far far above the glib assumptions made by the EPA and the oil and gas industry. Some results were truly shocking, with high percentages of methane emissions spewing from wells that the industry and EPA were ignoring. Leaving aside the documented fracking side effects of aquifer destruction, earthquake threats, progressively leaking aging wells and other pollutant damage, the levels of CH4 leaked emissions were obviously so high as to make me believe that we need a complete review about whether natural gas offers, in any truly meaningful way, a positive “bridge” to GHG reductions. Yes, by that I mean that the real climate effects of natural gas, with methane leaks taken into account, may put its climate damage on par with the coal industry it purports to cleanly replace.
Now, a study published in the journal Science, authored by leading climate experts, shows that my suspicions about this problem are confirmed. That study demonstrates that the net positive impact of the much vaunted switch to natural gas may result in no net decrease in GHG emissions whatsoever, and in fact may be making the problem worse.
In 2014 when I attended the massive climate march in NYC, I tweeted repeatedly to urge people to adopt new technologies, now available, that would rapidly reduce the demand for natural gas in households and businesses. One of those technologies, a true game changer, is the heat pump water heater (HPWH) (note this disclaimer – I don’t sell these devices and receive no compensation from anyone, directly or indirectly, for recommending them).
Heat pump water heaters (HPWH) are still an unknown to many people. However, this type of highly efficient water heater is readily available at Lowes and other other hardware outlets, and it offers substantial savings over normal electric water heaters and can replace natural gas at a cost comparable to a natural gas replacement. New style heat pump water heaters often use much less than half the electricity of normal electric water heaters, and also use far less overall energy than any other type of standard water heater, including natural gas and propane. Their big efficiency results in savings that pays for the water heater quickly, often in as little as two years or less.
Heat pump water heaters should be mandated for installation in every locality where natural gas is now used! Their use would make an enormous dent in damage caused by the phony “natural gas as GHG reduction device” argument.
Heat pump water heaters are run on electricity, but unlike normal electric water heaters that heat water with resistance coils (like the resistance coil burner on an electric range) the heat pump water heater pulls heat out of the surrounding air, accumulates it to a high temperature, and heats the house or business’s water with that energy.
Heat pump water heaters look much like normal electric water heaters and are typically offered with a 50 or 80 gallon tank. Since they pull heat out of the surrounding air, they need to be placed where there’s a sufficient amount of air available to provide enough heat. A garage or basement works fine. They can also be placed inside a house in a largish utility room. New models have ducts that allow the possibility of piping in hot attic air, or warm air from some other source potentially make HPWHs even more efficient. Imagine heating your hot water with your wasted attic heat instead of a leaking fracking well.
In the last few years, HPWH technology has improved rapidly. Now, the new “Northern Climate” models, such as new “Geospring” models made by General Electric, work efficiently in homes even in cold northern winters.
HPWHs are not much more expensive than regular electric water heaters (and with available tax incentives and rebates may be even less expensive than normal ones), yet the fast payback they offer makes them a great value for most households. They are especially great for homes with people who like to take long showers (for best savings – use HPWHs combined with low flow shower heads and faucet aerators). Combine all of this with rooftop solar and they can virtually wipe out the GHG emissions caused by heating water. Note on this website you can find where states or utility companies offer big rebates that can help offset HPWH costs. In California, the state offers many customers a rebate of $500 through the big utility companies for installation of a HPWH. With prices for 50 gallon HPWHs typically about $1,100.00, the installed cost is about the same as a regular water heater.
Again, I don’t sell these water heaters or get any compensation for advocating for them, but I urge you to see this webpage for information on new high efficiency, reasonably priced Geospring models offered by General Electric.
With a nod to the late Nancy Reagan, “Just say no!” to using natural gas.