If you’re desperate for good news about climate change, it helps if you have a sense of schadenfreude. Probably the merriest fossil fuel stories of 2019 show the fracking industry on the verge of a meltdown.
Despite a raft of accounting gimmicks, the industry wasn’t able to hide the fact that it was drowning in red ink. By mid-year, Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry reported that::
A cross-section of 29 fracking-focused oil and gas companies reported more than $2.5 billion in negative free cash flows in the first quarter of 2019. These results were even worse than in the fourth quarter of 2018…
And as the year went on, the frackers’ problems kept getting worse. By December, the oil and gas giant Chevron was forced to write down its assets by more than Ten Billion US Dollars, with industry analysts widely accepting that dozens of other companies in the sector would face a similar reckoning.
Whatever financial pain the industry is facing, though, looks like a flesh wound compared to the injury it has inflicted on the rest of us—and our environment. As Chevron tried to put on a brave face for investors, researchers at Stanford University dispelled the characterization of natural gas as a necessary “bridge fuel” to clean energy.
A surge in natural gas has helped drive down coal burning across the United States and Europe, but it isn’t displacing other fossil fuels on a global scale. Instead, booming gas use is fueling the global growth in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study by researchers at Stanford University and other institutions.
In fact, natural gas use is growing so fast, its carbon dioxide emissions over the past six years actually eclipsed the decline in emissions from the falling use of coal, the researchers found.
Consider also the grim news that came in December, when the National Academy of Sciences reported that a new satellite-based methane analysis determined that a single gas well blowout in Ohio last year was one of the largest methane leaks in US history. The New York Times reported:
The blowout, in February 2018 at a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary in Belmont County, Ohio, released more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations do in a year, the research team found. The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well.”
The Ohio blowout released more methane than the reported emissions of the oil and gas industries of countries like Norway and France, the researchers estimated. Scientists said the measurements from the Ohio site could mean that other large leaks are going undetected.