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Satellite-based methane study deals another blow to UK energy policy

A new study has uncovered a rise in US methane levels of more than 30 percent over the last decade.  And while the authors stop short of blaming the increase on the US shale gas (fracking) industry, which grew by 900 percent in the same period, it is difficult to find an alternative source for the increased levels of methane.

The study – which examines data recorded by orbiting satellites – has embarrassed the US Environmental Protection Agency, which used fracking industry estimates to claim that there had been no appreciable increase in methane since 2002.  The study also calls into question the UK government claim that shale gas can contribute to lowering carbon emissions, since gas is only cleaner than coal if there are no significant leaks.  As Geoffrey Lean in the Independent notes:

“Both the British and US governments have been banking on shale gas as a relatively clean fuel that would act as a ‘bridge’ to the low carbon economy needed in the next few decades if the world is not to heat up uncontrollably.”

There are already questions about the economic viability of UK shale gas extraction.  If the additional cost of preventing methane leakage has to be built into the fracking industry business models, there will be even fewer recoverable gas reserves.  If, on the other hand, the UK government turns a blind eye to methane leaks, then the whole case for using gas as a low-carbon alternative to coal is undermined.

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