I thought I'd re-post this article from this evening's Channel 4 News on Williston, North Dakota, the centre of the current boom in fracking in the USA. The written version is here.
The line that particularly caught my attention was that the waste flares burn off the same amount of gas that Wales consumes and pays for ... the greenhouse gas equivalent of a million cars. Yet another indication that "the size of Wales" is an internationally recognized unit of measurement. In essence, the operators there are only really interested in the oil, and regard the methane released as a waste product. More about that here.
Even though such a high level of waste is scandalous enough in itself, the problem is that not burning the methane that escapes is much worse than burning it, because methane is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
The idea behind fracking is to shatter rock formations to so as to release oil and gas that could otherwise not be extracted. But it is far from a precise process. One of the greatest dangers, even when the intention is to collect methane (as it would be in Britain), is that not all the methane released by fracking will be collected, and that it will eventually find its way to the surface in an uncontrolled way. This has always been known to be a problem, but it seems that the problem is far, far worse than had been thought. Only a few days ago it was reported that unburned methane emission rates in south west Pennsylvania were 1,000 times higher than had previously been estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Fracking might well be a way of helping to achieve energy self-sufficiency, but it is a complete disaster in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.