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Natural gas: Getting fractious over fracking

Environmental campaigners that are raising fears over shale gas extraction might just be cutting off their nose to spite their face, argues Jon Entine

Hands off, Gazprom!

Who would have thought the Friends of the Earth would befriend Vladimir Putin, or at least unwittingly encourage his monopolistic mania? Or that Greens would put vanity environmental politics ahead of the needs of the developing world? But that’s just what’s happening.

The driver for this unlikely alliance is the boom in natural gas production from shale rock. Natural gas from shale has been produced for more than 100 years in the Appalachian and Illinois basins of the US, but the sites were often only marginally economical.

That changed with an innovation known as “fracking” – using horizontal drilling to fracture tight rock formations deep underground by injecting, under immense pressure, water and chemicals mixed with sand or ceramic, allowing methane gas to escape.

It’s a disruptive technology, but it multiplies the world’s supply of natural gas, which emits less in the way of greenhouse gases when being burnt than other carbon...

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