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NASA Study Pinpoints Fracking as Source of Four Corners Methane Hot Spot

August 18th, 2016

NASA released a study on Monday, August 15th, 2016 which examines the cause of the methane hot spot that has developed in the “Four Corners” area of the American Southwest. Radar maps show a 2,500-square mile plume where the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado connect. This methane hot spot was originally detected in 2003 and confirmed by NASA satellite data in 2014. It is the largest concentration of atmospheric methane in the United States. The concentration of this hot spot is more than three times the standard ground-based estimate.

The NASA study confirms a Harvard study from earlier in the year that fracking is the main culprit for the development of this hot spot. Fracking is not good for the atmosphere and should be a cause of concern for the entire planet, not just this area of the country. In fact, the Harvard study claims that the United States is probably responsible for a large portion of the increase in global methane emissions because of the increase in use of natural gas and fracking. The problem this presents is that natural gas is mostly methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas which traps 86 times as much heat in the atmosphere carbon dioxide does over a 20-year period. Even small to medium leakage rates can have an extreme impact on the climate, which is enough to defeat the benefits of switching from coal energy to gas.

To hit home with the subject, Texas has problems too. The issues surrounding fracking practices across Texas are largely overlooked and ignored because the state’s methane production is part of a powerful industry’s infrastructure. There is little to no oversight of the industry as budgets and profits have declined tremendously in recent years. The overseers of the oil and gas industry in Texas are often the strongest defenders and proponents of the industry. According to analysis of personal financial forms by CPI, it is commonplace for Texas lawmakers to have direct ties to the industry as “nearly one in four state legislators or his or her spouse, has a financial interest in at least one energy company active in the Eagle Ford”. Due to the high volume of toxins and pollutants, residents of the Texas shale production regions commonly experience symptoms such as nosebleeds, dizziness, nausea and other respiratory illnesses. The study continues:

“Chemicals released during oil and gas extraction include hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas found in abundance in Eagle Ford wells; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, a known carcinogen; sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which irritate the lungs; and other harmful substances such as carbon monoxide and carbon disulfide. VOCs also mix with nitrogen oxides emitted from field equipment to create ozone, a major respiratory hazard.”

“Studies show that, depending on the concentration and length of exposure, these chemicals can cause a range of ailments, from minor headaches to neurological damage and cancer. People in the Eagle Ford face an added risk: hydrogen sulfide, also known as H2S or sour gas, a naturally occurring component of crude oil and natural gas that lurks underground."

Texas shale production is responsible for 8 percent of the United States’ methane emissions and this number will continue to grow and the number of sick people will continue to grow, if we do not take action to stop the lack of oversight in our state, or better yet, end this altogether.