The ecology of natural gasJuly 13, 2012
Scientists examine process chain of natural gas, from rural extraction to urban distribution
"Fracking" stories about shale gas extraction hit the news daily, fueling a growing conflagration between environmental protectionism and economic interests. Otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking has become a profitable venture thanks to advances in horizontal drilling technology, opening up large US reservoirs and vastly changing the natural gas market. Touted as a clean energy source and a bridge fuel to transition from fossil fuels, natural gas via fracking is also frought with public health and environmental concerns. A session at the upcoming annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America will look at the natural gas process chain, from extraction and processing to transport and distribution.
In the United States, most shale gas resources lie in the Northeast, South Central and Rocky Mountain regions of the country. Among the largest of these is the Marcellus shale, which underlies a broad swath of the Northeast. Robert Jackson and his colleagues at Duke University have been researching fracking impacts on drinking water, sampling the shallow groundwater systems of more than 200 homeowners, most of them in the Marcellus formation of Pennsylvania and New York. Jackson will be among the presenters discussing the ecological and environmental dimensions of shale gas extraction in the session "Natural Gas: Ecology, Environment and Economics."
"In our first study of 68 homes published in 2011," says Jackson, "we found no evidence of increased salt concentrations or fracturing fluids. But we did find that dissolved methane concentrations were on average 17 times higher for water wells located within 1 kilometer of gas wells."
Jackson's presentation will include additional sampling results taken since the group's May 2011 study.
Shanna Cleveland, with the Conservation Law Foundation, will talk about policy strategies that could encourage cleaner natural gas distribution. Focusing on leaks in the antiquated natural gas pipelines of Massachusetts, Cleveland will draw on data supplied by the state's departments of environmental protection and public utilities.
"In Massachusetts alone," says Cleveland, "leaking pipelines release an estimated 8 - 12 billion cubic feet of methane. Unfortunately, current state and federal policies actually provide disincentives for pipeline owners to find and fix leaks."
Methane, the main constituent of natural gas, can pose a public safety threat and contributes to climate change. Cleveland will talk about how a mechanism called Targeted Infrastructure Recovery Factor (TIRF) could foster repairs by allowing gas companies to recover their capital costs for replacing certain types of pipelines on a yearly basis.
Gas leaks also cause significant changes to the soil. Margaret Hendrick and colleagues at Boston University conducted a study in Boston that looked at the effects of pervasive natural gas leaks from aging pipelines on urban ecosystems. They found that gassed soils often had levels of methane exceeding 90 percent and oxygen levels below 10 percent.
"Soil at leak sites often looks black and viscous, with a crusty substance at its surface," says Hendrick. "Dried out and oxygen-deprived, these soils become inhospitable to many organisms that live in the soil."
The researchers also found that plants at leak sites suffered from higher mortality rates and that methane gas invades plant tissues growing both above and below-ground. Hendrick and her colleagues hope their findings will help city planners and advance understanding of methane's role in global warming.
Robert Howarth, of Cornell University, will summarize the magnitude of methane emissions from all parts of societal use of natural gas as a fuel and compare its greenhouse gas footprint with that of other fossil fuels, such as oil and coal.
"Methane emissions dominate the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas," says Howarth, who will also discuss the extent to which methane pollution from natural gas can be reduced.
Other speakers in the session are:
- Robert Ackley, Gas Safety Inc.
- Eric Crosson, Picarro, Inc.
- Adrian Down, Duke University
- Susan Stout, USDA Forest Service
- Lynda Farrell, Pipeline Safety Coalition
- Kenneth Klemow, Wilkes University
Organized Oral Session 3 - Natural Gas: Ecology, Environment and Economics will take place on Monday, August 6 from 1:30 PM - 5 PM in room A 105 of the Oregon Convention Center.
Ecological Society of America
Related Natural Gas Current Events and Natural Gas News Articles
Crack it! Energy from a fossil fuel without carbon dioxide
The production of energy from natural gas without generating carbon dioxide emissions could fast become a reality, thanks to a novel technology developed by researchers of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).
Making green fuels, no fossils required
Using solar or wind power to produce carbon-based fuels, which are commonly called fossil fuels, might seem like a self-defeating approach to making a greener world.
Vast energy value in human waste: UN University
Biogas from human waste, safely obtained under controlled circumstances using innovative technologies, is a potential fuel source great enough in theory to generate electricity for up to 138 million households - the number of households in Indonesia, Brazil, and Ethiopia combined.
Analysis shows greenhouse gas emissions similar for shale, crude oil
The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory this week released a pair of studies on the efficiency of shale oil production excavation. The reports show that shale oil production generates greenhouse gas emissions at levels similar to traditional crude oil production.
Study: Fracking industry wells associated with premature birth
Expectant mothers who live near active natural gas wells operated by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania are at an increased risk of giving birth prematurely and for having high-risk pregnancies, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
Researchers examine tradeoffs, potential of using liquid natural gas as marine fuel
As the maritime shipping industry transitions toward cleaner fuels in response to new environmental regulations and emissions standards, abundant supplies of natural gas in the United States, and worldwide, appear to offer a promising solution in transportation industries.
Chemistry for the methanol economy
Ethylene is produced in greater amounts than any other basic chemical in the world. The small molecule consisting of two carbon atoms and four hydrogen atoms, it is a basic building block in the manufacture of a wide range of basic chemicals, polymers and plasticisers.
Artificial 'plants' could fuel the future
Imagine creating artificial plants that make gasoline and natural gas using only sunlight. And imagine using those fuels to heat our homes or run our cars without adding any greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Humans may be harmed by endocrine disrupting chemicals released during natural gas mining
More than 15 million Americans live within one mile of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations that combine directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" to release natural gas from underground rock. Scientific studies still are inconclusive on the potential long-term effects on human development.
Another milestone in hybrid artificial photosynthesis
A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) developing a bioinorganic hybrid approach to artificial photosynthesis have achieved another milestone.
More Natural Gas Current Events and Natural Gas News Articles