Stanford professor discusses techniques for minimizing environmental impacts of fracking

December 15, 2014, Stanford University

Natural gas from hydraulic fracturing generates income and, done well, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and water use compared to coal and even nuclear energy. However, widespread use of natural gas from fracking could slow the adoption of wind, solar and other renewables and, done poorly, release toxic chemicals into the environment.

Robert Jackson, the Kevin and Michelle Douglas Professor of Environment and Energy at the Stanford School of Earth Sciences, will discuss how to minimize the water and air impacts of fracking and other unconventional energy-extraction techniques on Dec. 18 at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting in San Francisco. The talk, titled "Minimizing the Water and Air Impacts of Unconventional Energy Extraction," takes place at 2:55 p.m. PT, at the Moscone Convention Center in Moscone West, Room 3018.

"Switching from coal to for electricity generation will reduce sulfur, nitrogen, mercury and particulate pollution regionally," said Jackson, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Precourt Institute for Energy. "But can also increase and other air toxins locally, creating a potential health threat. One key message is that best practices matter a lot for environmental stewardship, and some companies have stronger best practices than others."

Based on research to date, primary threats to water resources come from surface spills, wastewater disposal and drinking-water contamination through poor well integrity. Jackson will discuss recently published and new data on water contamination in the Marcellus and Barnett shales of Pennsylvania and Texas, respectively.

Natural gas power plants typically emit less carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming, than coal-fired plants. But methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is 34 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time scale, according to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. Jackson and his colleagues have found that methane leakage is a significant problem in the U.S. natural gas industry.

According to Jackson, critical needs for future research on unconventional energy extraction include data on the impact of greenhouse gases and on ecosystems and human health, the potential contamination of surface and groundwater from drilling and spills, and the frequency of well-integrity failures.

Explore further: Is natural gas a 'bridge' to a hotter future?

Related Stories

Is natural gas a 'bridge' to a hotter future?

December 8, 2014

Natural gas power plants produce substantial amounts of gases that lead to global warming. Replacing old coal-fired power plants with new natural gas plants could cause climate damage to increase over the next decades, unless ...

China's synthetic gas plants would be greenhouse giants

September 25, 2013

Coal-powered synthetic natural gas plants being planned in China would produce seven times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional natural gas plants, and use up to 100 times the water as shale gas production, according ...

Recommended for you

Two new planets discovered using artificial intelligence

March 26, 2019

Astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin, in partnership with Google, have used artificial intelligence (AI) to uncover two more hidden planets in the Kepler space telescope archive. The technique shows promise for ...

Infertility's roots in DNA packaging

March 26, 2019

Pathological infertility is a condition affecting roughly 7 percent of human males, and among those afflicted, 10 to 15 percent are thought to have a genetic cause. However, pinpointing the precise genes responsible for the ...

Facebook is free, but should it count toward GDP anyway?

March 26, 2019

For several decades, gross domestic product (GDP), a sum of the value of purchased goods, has been a ubiquitous yardstick of economic activity. More recently, some observers have suggested that GDP falls short because it ...

Droughts could hit aging power plants hard

March 26, 2019

Older power plants with once-through cooling systems generate about a third of all U.S. electricity, but their future generating capacity will be undercut by droughts and rising water temperatures linked to climate change. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.