In a move that could redefine the fracking debate, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has dramatically reduced its estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production.
Natural gas is cleaner burning than coal, but its production can release methane — a potent greenhouse gas— into the atmosphere. Natural gas critics worried this could negate its climate change benefits.
The Associated Press reports the EPA revised its estimates by about 20 percent, after new information showed drilling companies make broader use of emission control techniques:
The EPA revisions came even though natural gas production has grown by nearly 40 percent since 1990. The industry has boomed in recent years, thanks to a stunning expansion of drilling in previously untapped areas because of the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects sand, water, and chemicals to break apart rock and free the gas.
Experts on both sides of the debate say leaks can be controlled by fixes such as better gaskets, maintenance, and monitoring. Such fixes are also thought to be cost-effective, since the industry ends up with more product to sell.