Game Changer Gas, Naturally

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This is definitely poetic, for want of better narrative. Finally, Mother-Earth has come to rescue the humanity from the climate-cliff.

To overcome the challenge of climate cliff, Mother Earth has come up with a solution called ‘shale gas’ – a natural gas located deep below the earth’s surface in the shale – thin layers of rock. Even though the same humanity exploited the very Mother-Earth for the selfish purposes that brought us to the cliff in the first place!

Truly, the impending rescue operation demonstrates true motherly spirit, her magnanimity and her ‘giving nature’. The life-boat thrown is called ‘natural gas’ trapped more than 1 km or even 5 km deep down the earth in the shale, i.e. thin layers of rocks.  Shale-methane is formed by the microbes which decompose the fossils of higher carbon compounds to its single carbon compound, i.e. methane. The process is aided by pressure of the rocks and also by the heat inside the earth. It was hitherto inaccessible to the mankind. To distinguish it from its commonly accessed methane, it is now baptized as ‘shale gas’.  Even more Americanized name, etymologically related to the technology used to extract it-is ‘fracking gas’. It needs hydraulic pressure to crack the shale to access the gas.

Bailing out by bellowing bed rocks

Shale gas bellowing out of bedrocks is becoming the American trajectory of energy independence. If the whole world takes fracking as frantic as USA, the freak and revolution is certainly in making that may even lessen the burden of fuel, food and financial crisis.

Humanity’s addictions to burning of fossil fuel from mother earth’s interior from the days of the industrial revolution resulted into increasing the concentration of CO2 –a green house gases (GHGs) -in the atmosphere that is responsible for the rise in the global average temperature of the earth. The rise in temperature and increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been strikingly related .

World continued for last two decades to increasingly devour coal, oil and gas in spite of its far reaching and even fatal consequences highlighted by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of United Nations. Global anthropogenic CO2 emissions have seen an increase of about 45 per cent since 1990, which is the same percentage as in the 20 years before 1990. This increase is slap on the face of global consensus on stabilizing the concentration of CO2 in atmosphere.

Such increase in, as per estimate of International Energy Agency, will lead to as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius in next few decades. Considering that global community is frantically trying to limit the temperature rise to 2 deg centigrade, such 5.3 deg rise would put all the countries in dangerous trajectory.

Natural Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel. To produce same amount of heat or electricity we need half the amount of natural gas as compared to coal. When compared with oil the amount of natural gas needed is 25 per cent less. Power plants that burn coal also produce other pollutants like more than 90 times as much sulfur dioxide, five times as much nitrogen oxide apart from twice as much carbon dioxide as those that run on natural gas. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain and nitrogen oxides lead to smog. The emissions of mercury- dangerous element that has disastrous health effects that  prompted the international Mercury elimination treaty under United Nations-is negligible.

Thus, methane gas or natural gas from fracking has come as an unprecedented opportunity to get respite from ever increasing GHGs.

Gas-rush years: The grand debate

Like gold-rush years, USA is witnessing ‘gas-rush’ years. The reserves of the shale gas are yet to be fully mapped and technology to extract it is yet to be mastered well. The estimates of the world reserves of natural gas vary widely.

Today, the debate on shale gas is mainly focused on two issues. First, the technology of extraction of the shale gas, which causes environmental damages of extremely serious nature, is being hotly discussed by the scientists and environmentalists. Number of countries including UK and France has limited the fracking explorations only to the safe, healthy and nature preserving operations. Second, the geo-political changes that shale gas revolution would bring, have become the harvest of predictions and analysis of political pundits and are now close to the reality.

There is third critical dimension, which is over looked by many, but not by the scientists, is the impact of extensive use of shale gas on climate change and sustainable development. BY RAJENDRA SHENDE

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