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Fighting Fracked Gas (Methane)

To protect human health from the ravages of climate change, we must stop spewing heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. One of the most urgent gases to control is methane.

PSR has summarized the health threats associated with methane in our report Too Dirty, Too Dangerous. For a quick overview, read on.

A potent greenhouse gas

Methane, over its first 20 years in the atmosphere, is 86 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Fortunately methane breaks down over time, so its climate impact declines. However, the breakdown products of methane include water vapor and carbon dioxide, both of which trap heat. So even 100 years after entering the atmosphere, methane’s byproducts keep contributing to global warming.

The result: An increase in heat, extreme storms, and sea level rise, each of which unleashes dangerous health consequences.

Contamination from fracking

Although methane is marketed under the name “natural gas,” there is nothing natural about the way it is extracted using hydraulic horizontal fracturing, or fracking. In the fracking process, a complex mix of chemicals, many of which are toxic, and silica sand are added to millions of gallons of clean water. That contaminated water is forced underground at extremely high pressure, fracturing deep underground bands of rock where small bubbles of methane are found. The bubbles of methane, along with other naturally occurring dangerous gases and much of the contaminated water, are brought back to the surface.

The result: toxic air pollution and toxic threats to local drinking water. A burgeoning literature of scientific and medical studies shows increases in serious health outcomes associated with living near fracking sites.

Pipelines transport toxics

It’s not only communities located near fracking sites that suffer health consequences from fracking. An extensive network of pipelines crisscrosses the U.S., carrying fracked gas through other communities hundreds of miles from fracking sites. These pipelines and related infrastructure exposing these communities to accidental leaks, deliberate releases of gas known as “blowdowns,” and sometimes even devastating explosions.

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