FOCUS ON: Natural Gas

Natural gas is plentiful in the United States. In 2013, it accounted for 27% of total electricity generation, second only to coal. New technology has in recent decades increased the amount of natural gas that can be extracted from previously marginal shale beds. That new technology – called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – involves horizontal drilling of wells, along with high-pressure injection of water and chemicals to crack the underground shale and release the natural gas.

In addition to concern about fracking’s impact on water quality, the process has serious air quality impacts. Communities in shale plays across the country have experienced increases in harmful air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and ground level ozone. Fracking also involves extensive trucking activities, and can increase dangerous diesel emissions from trucks and generators. When air quality declines, so does the health of the community.

The fracking process also involves unintentional releases of methane, the major component of natural gas. Because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – more than 80 times more powerful in its warming capacity than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years of its release – an increase in fracking also threatens to accelerate global warming.

View our ad series on how fracking pollution impacts communities.

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