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    Fracking and Drilling Are Now the No. 2 Contributor to Global Warming in the U.S.

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Congratulations, fracking. Everyone’s favorite oil-n-gas-grubbing, chemical cocktail-blasting extravaganza is officially a proud component of the No. 2 driver of sea-rising civilizational decline this side of the Atlantic--oil and gas production. The United States guv just deemed the act of hydraulic fracturing, or shooting tons of water and toxic chemicals and tiny granules of sand deep into the earth’s crust--along with oil drilling and processing and transporting both fossil fuels--the second-biggest contributor to global climate change in the nation.

    No. 1 is still coal-fired power plants, and fracking ain’t even close to touching that, but still: no shame in second place. Especially when second place means launching 225 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the atmosphere in a single year, which is exactly what the oil and gas frackers did, industry-wide in 2011. (Power plants blew out 2,221 million metric tons)

    The finding is likely to reign on the triumphant nat gas parade, which is currently coasting into the mainstream with energy companies’ slogan-like assurance that “it’s cleaner than coal.” Natural gas is the perfect “bridge fuel,” see, because it emits less carbon than coal when it’s burned—while we’re still tweaking the wind turbines, we can ‘bridge’ the gap to clean energy with gas.

    But not really. This report reveals what we’ve already known—fracking outfits are loose and sloppy, and they release major emissions throughout the whole extraction and refinement process; not just when the gas is finally burned in a power plant.

    Because of fracking, the U.S. is now home to more gas-flaring—picture giant methane fireballs at a wellhead in the desert—than anywhere besides Russia, Iran, or Iraq. Because of fracking, you can see North Dakota from space—at night.

    Because of fracking, all the benefits of low-carbon natural gas are lost, belched away in a thousand carbon-coated hadukens aimed at the sky.

    So, we’ve got to stop the methane leaks. The frackers can drill without giving birth to constant methane infernos, it’s just more expensive, so they don’t. Environmental groups and sane citizens have asked the EPA to set standards to stop such leaks, to regulate the wild fracking west.

    Michael Levi, a fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, told Bloomberg that fracking “is an area where we have technological answers to our problems. We know how to fix many of these problems; we just need to make the decision to do it.”

    But industry is going to make no such decision itself; that would cut into the big gassy profits. Industry has fought tooth and bloody nail to maintain the right to keep its toxic chemical cocktails secret and free from government oversight; they’re not going to go quietly into the regulatory night on the methane, either.

    Onto the laundry list it goes: fracking isn’t just turning your tap water flammable, getting chemical refuse dumped into your storm drain, and leeching into your groundwater. It’s frying the planet, too.

    UPDATE: The headline and post have been updated to reflect the fact that fracking alone is not the No. 2 contributor to climate change in the U.S.