The Washington Post Greens Fracking

The Washington Post editorial page (10/5/12) weighed in on the contentious environmental issue of fracking. No surprise–they’re all for it.

“Fracking’s Green Side” is the headline in the print edition. (The Web version is different.) The editors write:

Those who would ban fracking or regulate it into oblivion ignore the exceptional benefits that inexpensive natural gas can provide in the biggest environmental fight of our time–against climate change.

Of course, many people who fight climate change don’t think fracking is the answer. They point to the considerable local environmental hazards–water and air pollution, for starters–but they also question the argument that fracking is necessarily better for the climate.

The Post makes the argument that gas proponents most often cite: “Burning natural gas produces only about half the carbon emissions as burning coal.”

But as fracking critics point out, this is not the only impact it has on the climate. Here’s Neil deMause in Extra! (7/12):

Any drilling for fossil fuels means more carbon will eventually be released into the atmosphere, but fracking’s effect on climate is compounded by the fact that the drilling process can create huge methane leaks: A study by Cornell scientists Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea estimated that fracked wells leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional wells (Scientific American, 1/20/12). Because methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, the National Center for Atmospheric Research has estimated that at these levels of leakage, switching from oil to natural gas consumption would significantly worsen global warming over the next several decades (Climate Progress, 9/9/11).

The Post doesn’t mention methane leaks. They do, however, approvingly cite research from a group called Resources for the Future, touting an energy future based on increased fracking. Readers might want to know, but aren’t told, that the group is financially backed by a Who’s Who of the energy industry: Shell, Duke Energy, Chevron, the American Gas Association, ExxonMobil, Alcoa, Dow Chemical and so forth.

A few weeks ago, we pointed out that the Post seemed to sell a couple of its news pages to an energy industry sponsor. In this case, no such direct conflict seems to be at work–the paper is pushing a pro-industry line, seemingly for free.