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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Can natgas and fracking save lives?

This Bloomberg article is worth reading, for a number of reasons.

It reports on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that finds that pollution from burning coal reduced the life expectancy of Chinese citizens living in the northern half of the country by a full five years.  A separate study published in December in the Lancet attributed about a million deaths a year in China to air pollution.

Bloomberg suggests that the development of China’s shale gas reserves – currently stalled due to geological considerations and a shortage of water – could allow China to replicate recent air quality gains made in the United States. Those temporary gains were enabled, in part, from the switch from coal to cheap natural gas made possible by the shale gas boom here.  China has the opportunity to save lives by switching from coal to gas for energy production, Bloomberg says.

The potential of natural gas as an energy source to saves lives also underscores the opportunity and the urgency of developing alternative, waterless fracking technologies - and coupling them with strong regulations and smart energy policies.

To be sure, there are other air pollution issues surrounding natgas development that need urgent attention. And questions of public health and natgas production cut both ways. But it is indisputable, from the standpoint of air pollution compared to coal, that shale gas – and fracking – can save lives.  That fact needs to part of the public discussion and debate on fracking’s future – here and abroad. 

July 12 update: A new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters says that over 2 million people a year globally die from air pollution - specifically from inhaling soot that is generated from burning coal, oil, and diesel. Converting to natural gas - combustion of which releases no soot - can save lives. 

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