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Improvements In Fracking

October 6, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 40

“Methane’s Role in Climate Change” places too much blame on the hydraulic fracturing of gas-bearing shale for the rise in atmospheric methane (C&EN, July 7, page 10). The estimated natural gas emission of 7.9% of production has been traced to a single hastily fracked and completed well and definitely is not representative of the natural gas industry’s performance.

Indeed, the “Methane Rising” graph on page 12 shows that, during the recent decade or so of fracking for shale gas, the atmospheric methane concentration has not skyrocketed but instead has started to level off.

Admittedly, some of the shale gas wells drilled and completed during the past decade were wastefully completed in order that some leaseholders could “hold by production” their bargain-priced leases. In the future, there should be less wasteful haste in shale gas fracking, so the wells should be properly and economically drilled and completed.

Also, between 1859 and World War II, most natural gas production was a nuisance by-product of oil production, and natural gas at the wellhead was valued at less than a nickel for 1 million Btu. As a result, natural gas was wastefully produced and used. After WWII until the end of the Soviet Union, the Soviet oil and gas industry was horribly wasteful. These two periods were when atmospheric methane concentration rose most sharply.

It is unfair to blame the current gas industry for most of the increased atmospheric methane concentration. A small percentage of methane is found in virtually all combustion product gases, especially uncontrolled combustion such as from the devastating increase in forest fires and deplorable deforestation in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia. Another increasing source of methane is anaerobically decomposing wetlands that are mandated by state governments.

The most frightening new source of methane emissions is from global warming and the increasing thawing rate of northern permafrost, which inherently contains considerable methane hydrates. This source of methane is especially visible in the methane bubbles bursting out of the innumerable Arctic lakes during ­summer.

John M. Bradley
Manchester, Mass.



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