A University of California, Berkeley, physicist is urging environmentalists to abandon their opposition to the development of unconventional natural gas and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) because shale gas is a “wonderful gift” to the world and the only way to displace coal.
Writing for the UK-based think tank Centre for Policy Studies, Richard Muller, who also is scientific director of the nonprofit Berkeley Earth, concludes in a report that the United States must lead a global effort of switching from coal to natural gas. The 16-page report, "Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking,” was co-authored with his daughter, Elizabeth Muller, executive director of Berkeley Earth and the China Shale Fund.
"Shale gas, with its near-total reduction of [particulate matter], provides a solution to the pollution," the report said. "It can be a clean technology, and even though it will not halt global warming, only energy conservation offers a more affordable way to slow it."
Environmentalists should recognize the shale gas revolution is "beneficial to society" and as such, lend full support to helping it advance.
The report focuses on the need to curb particulate matter (PM) pollution known as PM2.5 and greenhouse gases, with a special focus on China, which has high pollution levels.
"Natural gas offers a practical and relatively quick way to stem the rise of PM2.5 air pollution," the report said. "At the same time, as an alternative to coal, it offers an important opportunity to significantly slow the growth of carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions."
The authors also examine the environmental footprint of shale gas development, citing potential issues of water contamination, fugitive methane, fracking fluid discharges and drilling-induced seismic activity. However, these risks can be lowered by "regulating shale at least as stringently as conventional oil and gas" operations.
The report also examines the potential global impacts of widespread shale gas development and the competitive impacts on the spread of renewables, particularly wind and solar. In the long term, gas resource development is envisioned to displace coal.
The main global competition to solar and wind will be cheap coal, said the authors. They see this scenario being difficult to avoid even in the developed world, citing the shutting of many nuclear plants after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in 2011.
Concerns about the "industrialization" of rural areas from shale development and the fact that gas is a fossil fuel contributing to the globe's carbon footprint are overstated, and many of the alleged concerns are false, the report said.
"As both global warming and air pollution can be mitigated by the development and utilization of shale gas, developed economies should help emerging economies switch from coal to natural gas," the authors said. "Shale gas technology should be advanced as rapidly as possible and shared freely."