“Bridge Fuel” May Do More Harm Than Good

Despite claims made by President Obama in his State of the Union address, continuing fracking may not be a means to reach world carbon emissions reduction targets, reports Brad Plumer in the Washington Post on Jan. 29. While replacing coal with natural gas from shale fracking has already helped the U.S. reduce carbon emissions; ultimately, the burning of natural gas needs to stop in order to “make truly deep cuts in emissions,” says the report.

In fact, according to a paper that ran in Climatic Change last year by energy expert Michael Levi, the ceasing of natural gas burning needs to come sooner rather than later, says the Post article. In order to have a shot at limiting global warming below two degrees Celsius, global gas consumption would need to reach its maximum by 2020, or 2030 at the latest, according to Levi’s paper. If, on the other hand, natural gas use never stops, even if coal burning is eliminated, temperatures are likely to rise more 3.5 degrees Celsius in the long term, says the paper.

Although Levi’s paper suggests that natural gas can still be burned for at least the next ten years, some argue that allowing fracking to continue will make it nearly impossible to reduce global warming, says the Post article. Among the rationales for this is that continued fracking will lead to a surplus of natural gas. That would make this form of energy so cheap that companies will not want to invest in researching carbon-free energy sources, according to the report.

Another reason some take issue with the President’s backing of natural gas use is that it gives  shale energy companies the green light to finish construction of shale power plants and pipelines for extracting natural gas that are underway. Such companies seem to have no intentions of ceasing their operations in the near future since they are building natural gas power plants and pipelines, which are expected to last decades, according to the article. Increases in fracking, therefore, could make it more difficult to reach admissions targets rather than serve as an interim step to the development and use of green energy sources.

To read the full Washington Post story, click here

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