Natural gas is mostly methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas – especially in the short term, with 105 times more warming impact pound for pound than carbon dioxide.
Even small leaks of methane make a big difference. Howarth estimated that as much as eight per cent of the methane in shale gas leaks into the air during the lifetime of a hydraulic shale gas well, up to twice what escapes from conventional gas production.
"The take-home message of our study is that if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil," Howarth said. "We are not advocating for more coal or oil, but rather to move to a truly green, renewable future as quickly as possible."
The desperate drive to continue down the fossil fuel path, regardless of the costs, will eventually be abandoned in favour of renewable alternatives, and the sooner the better.