This question was put to the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s Executive Vice President of Technical Affairs, Andrew Paterson, who was testifying on behalf of the 250-member gas industry trade group at a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on Marcellus Shale Air Pollution at Delaware County Community College in Media, PA on October 12, 2011.
In prepared testimony, speaking on behalf of the politically influential gas lobby, Paterson had extolled at length the virtues of “fuel switching.” He painted a rosy environmental picture of Pennsylvania’s transportation sector, replete with “clean fleets” and a 2-12% reduction in CO2. He anticipated increased usage overall in “electric generation, combined heat and power applications, general heating and cooling uses, and as a feedstock for many industries.” He further asserted that “natural gas will be a critical tool to help Pennsylvania and the nation achieve air quality goals.”
In his written testimony, Paterson states that Coalition members recognize that drilling for shale gas involves “processes that result in various air emissions.” Specifically, these are the same variety of pollutants that natural gas-powered fleets promise to reduce: nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, particulate matter and greenhouse gases, plus a few others like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone. Suffice it say, while natural gas may be a cleaner burning fuel to use, it’s still a fossil fuel, and an extremely noxious one to coax from the earth at that.
The full cycle of shale gas extraction includes not only drilling and fracking, but flaring, compressing, processing, transporting, etc. This point was a common thread in testimony by representatives of the Clean Air Council, Group Against Smog & Pollution (GASP) and the American Lung Association. The total emissions footprint of shale gas extraction is yet to be calculated but those experts agree, and experiences in western US states indicate, that fracking is potentially more greenhouse gas intensive than any other form of fossil fuel extraction.
The PA Department of Environmental Protection has conducted a scant three short term, ambient air studies near Marcellus drilling sites in 2011, and it states in the study itself that the scope of the sampling is too narrow to draw conclusions about long-term air quality. Paterson cited the DEP studies anyway, erroneously extrapolating the results to argue that air emissions from all Marcellus drilling activities are federally compliant. MSC members are already fully committed to abiding by existing “air rules.” (I assume he’s referring to the federal Clean Air Act thresholds which were scuttled in 2005). We can all breathe easy, the Marcellus Shale Coalition is addressing air quality issues with “best management practices.”
Not once did Paterson actually mention hydraulic fracturing, or the many processing steps shale gas takes on its miraculous way to the pump. Rather he, left discussion of specific air pollution issues to Range Resources’ Director of Regulatory Policy, and fellow Coalition Member, Carla Suszkowski, who joined him on the Committee’s hotseat. Suszkowski boldly broached the topic of source emissions from flaring, waste pit evaporation and the innumerable machines used to compress natural gas. She eloquently copped to the notion that the industry could reduce diesel carbon emissions at compressor stations and well sites if machinery were run on electricity, and trucks on natural gas. Range Resources, she assured us, is wholly committed to compliance and innovative, economical “best management practices.”
So, seriously, do Coalition members believe Climate Change is for real?
It was one of those questions that seemed almost too obvious to ask. It drew a chuckle from the audience. It does appear, to strident observers at least, that when the Coalition is selling the idea of a “cleaner-burning” fuel, Climate Change is a viable selling point, but when it comes to getting that gas out of the ground, eh, not so much.
Paterson wasn’t being evasive when he replied, “We’ve never put it to a vote.”
Click here to read the full press release: “Experts say Marcellus air pollution a threat” from the hearing chairman, State Rep. Greg Vitali.