Letter writer differs on column about natural gas

I recently read Robert W. Chase’s Viewpoint in the April 16 edition of the Marietta Times, and I have to say that Chase’s reference to natural gas as the “most reliable, cleanest burning, and cheapest fuel for power generation” is just nonsense.

Why would I make this assertion about the remarks of an emeritus professor in the Marietta College Department of Petroleum Engineering and Geology? I’ll explain.

In February, Harvard researchers published a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The group of researchers used satellite data and ground observations to find that between 2002 and 2014, U.S. methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of a huge spike in global methane emissions. This period of time coincides with the U.S. boom in natural gas development and production.

As Chase stated, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas that is about 87 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20-year period. Where Chase was misleading was in stating that natural gas accounts for only about 9 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. From the Washington Post: “The agency [EPA] revised upward total methane emissions in the U.S. for the year 2013 … to 721.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.” The article also states that 2014 estimates (the most recent data available) show emissions of 730.8 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions. The article states that these upward revisions are “driven in significant part by increased estimates of emissions from oil and gas operations.”

Methane is released at every stage of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process and is further heating an already massively warming world. But methane is not the only danger related to fracking. The group Environment America reports that at least 239 billion gallons of water – an average of three million gallons per well – has been used for fracking. Fracking turns this water to wastewater that is often toxic, containing a cocktail of dangerous chemicals including formaldehyde, benzene, and hydrochloric acid. This water is then injected underground, where it has been shown to leach into drinking water sources.

When the wastewater is injected as deeply below the surface as industry standards require, the injection process has been linked to man-made earthquakes that the U.S.G.S states have made Oklahoma as earthquake-active as California! These earthquakes have been widespread in Ohio as well.

West Virginia must explore wind, solar, water, and geothermal sources for future energy generation. Our state is the largest geothermal hot spot east of the Mississippi River, and wind turbines and solar panels have fallen dramatically in price as production and installation rates begin to outpace fossil fuels.

Coal is inevitably declining and disappearing. But natural gas is not the salvation fuel Chase portrays it to be.

Eric Engle, of Parkersburg

Group Leader Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action