Development of shale gas is an essential ingredient in the mitigation of global warming and in the reduction of other great environmental disaster in the world today – extensive air pollution, currently causing extensive death and disease around the world.
If environmentalists truly think globally, not locally, then the case for rapid development of shale gas is compelling. It is the only affordable alternative to coal for much of the developing world. Other than energy conservation, a switch from coal to gas is demonstrably the most important step that can be made to mitigate global warming. A switch from coal to gas can increase the time we have to the critical moment when carbon dioxide has doubled (compared to pre-industrial times) from the now expected 30 to 50 years, all the way to 60 to 100 years. That means that the development of shale gas can slow global warming enough to give time for renewables to become affordable for the developing nations – and those nations are the ones that in the future will emit most of the carbon dioxide. We are not criticizing those nations; we feel that their rapid development is beneficial to all; but we also believe that we must help them as much as possible develop clean but affordable energy – natural gas.
Shale gas companies often feel on the defensive regarding environmental issues. They address environmental questions by citing the potential financial upside of shale development. We feel that this is not the optimum approach to environmental concerns. Shale gas can be part of the solution. It should be vigorously supported by environmentalists. Failure to recognize this fact is often the result of “thinking local” rather than “thinking global”. We make this point in our essay, “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking”, written by Global Shale team members Richard and Elizabeth Muller, and published by the Centre for Policy Studies in the UK.
Richard Muller is an esteemed scientist/engineer, and his daughter Elizabeth is a well-known environmentalist. Together they founded Berkeley Earth, an organization that soon established a reputation for objective analysis in a highly contentious field. Richard Muller was until recently a leading climate change skeptic; his best-selling book Physics for Future Presidents uncovered many of the exaggerations and misleading statements made by prominent environmentalists. Yet the independent work done by Berkeley Earth eventually led the Mullers to the conclusion that not only is global warming real, and caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases, but that the rises temperatures need to be addressed by the world. They published major papers in refereed papers substantiating this result. They then set about looking for ways to slow the rapid increase in greenhouse emissions. An objective analysis showed that rather than shale gas being part of the problem, it is an essential part of the solution. Natural gas not only reduces greenhouse emissions from coal by half to two-thirds, but it also reduces the deadly particulate emissions that dominate world-wide air pollution by a factor of 400. This pollution currently kills 3 million people worldwide every year, including 3,000 per day in China alone.
Through Berkeley Earth, the Mullers have directly addressed concerns the environmentalists express regarding water pollution, local air and noise pollution, and greenhouse emissions from fugitive (leaking) methane. They demonstrated that these issues can be addressed and solved by enforcing industry best practice. They believe that it is counterproductive to counter environmental arguments with projections of financial gain; the issues must be addressed on the very grounds raised by environmentalists – quality of life for all, not just the shale developers. They believe that the concerns of the environmentalists are based on fear and misunderstanding of the new technology, and they have found that the best way to gain support is by showing, incontrovertibly, that development of natural gas, in particular shale gas through use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, is essential to protect our future environment.
The expertise of the Mullers on environmental issues is highly valued. ANGA (America’s National Gas Alliance) sought help from Berkeley Earth on the issue of leaked methane; their request led to a white paper on the problem that illustrated both why many groups had mistakenly exaggerated the global warming threat of “fugitive methane”, and demonstrated that objective analysis shows the true dangers are very small and easily controlled. (This paper is available at http://static.berkeleyearth.org/pdf/climate-impacts-of-coal-and-natural-gas.pdf)
The Mullers are widely respected in the environmental community for their efforts and success in bringing skeptics to recognize the reality of global warming. Richard was featured in the recent Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously convincing prominent skeptic the Reverend Rick Joyner that global warming is real. Former President Bill Clinton has publicly called Richard “a hero of mine” for his objective analysis of the issue.