World May Hit 2 Degrees of Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking, Says Cornell Scientist

Yves here. Notice when this warning on fracking was reported and how little media attention had gotten.

By Sharon Kelly, an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Originally published at DeSmogBlog

In 2011, a Cornell University research team first made the groundbreaking discovery that leaking methane from the shale gas fracking boom could make burning fracked gas worse for the climate than coal.

In a sobering lecture released this month, a member of that team, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University, outlined more precisely the role U.S. fracking is playing in changing the world’s climate.

The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says Ingraffea in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4.

That’s if American energy policy follows the track predicted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects 1 million natural gas wells will be producing gas in the U.S. in 2050, up from roughly 100,000 today.

The Difference of a Half Degree

An average global temperature increase of 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) will bring catastrophic changes — even as compared against a change of 1.5° C (2.7° F). “Heat waves would last around a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense, the increase in sea level would be approximately that much higher and the percentage of tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be roughly that much greater,” with just that half-degree difference, NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained in a 2016 post about climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was leaked this January, concludes that it’s “extremely unlikely” that the world will keep to a 1.5° change, estimating that the world will cross that threshold in roughly 20 years, somewhat slower than Ingraffea’s presentation concludes.

Earlier models, like an often-cited 2012 paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, dramatically underestimated the rise in temperatures, when its projections are compared against more than a half-decade of additional temperature recordings, Ingraffea says. “Every one of these scenarios under-predicted actual global warming,” he points out as he describes the models presented in that landmark 2012 study.

“Whereas the worst-case scenario brought us to 1.5 degrees Centigrade in 2040,” he adds, “we’re almost there today.”

A Different Energy Future, if Not for Fracking?

So what happened?

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, U.S. natural gas production was flat or falling. If that trend had continued along the same track it was following from 2006-2008, then wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources might have had a chance to displace both natural gas and coal as major energy sources in America, according to Ingraffea.

Instead, the shale gas rush, propelled by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), swept across the U.S., with drillers snapping up land to drill for previously inaccessible fossil fuels locked in geologic formations of shale rock from coast to coast.

If the shale gas rush hadn’t disrupted trends around that time, Ingraffea estimates that the wind energy sector alone could have produced roughly triple the amount of energy expected by the end of this coming decade, a difference of roughly 400 gigawatts.

“We can easily see there is a loss of potential — large amounts of wind energy — because of the injection of shale gas into our energy economy,” Ingraffea explains in the lecture.

While the shale gas industry promised benefits like jobs and American energy security, Ingraffea notes, those benefits would have been almost exclusively aimed at just 5 percent of the world’s population, North Americans. But the harms will affect the remaining 95 percent of the world as well.

It’s an alarming message — even though the shale rush has stumbled somewhat as gas prices collapsed and many drillers went bankrupt, the cumulative impact of American fracking appears to have set the entire world on a collision course with climate change’s most extreme effects.

The climate is changing faster and more dramatically than it might have otherwise, and — far from serving as a bridge fuel — fracking huge amounts of natural gas has already played a significant role in pushing the world toward a vastly more difficult future.

Ingraffea’s lecture, part of the Spring Creek Project’s Bedrock Lectures on Human Rights and Climate Change series, can be viewed below:

Main image: Screenshot, “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken” by Anthony Ingraffea, published on YouTube.

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  1. Altandmain

    In a sane world, we would ban hydraulic fracking.

    There are other consequences. I have heard of excellent farmland being completely destroyed by fracking for example.

  2. Charles 2

    I would disagree with Mr Ingraffea assessment. NG is the cheapest large scale electricity storage technology there was in the last twenty years, and the only one that could have stomached a large scale development of wind power to maintain grid stability. Without such a cheap storage solution, it is coal and nuclear which would have thrived. Bad for the 1st, better for the 2nd.

    1. HotFlash

      NG is the cheapest large scale electricity storage technology there was in the last twenty years

      I do not understand NG as electricity storage. Is it the compression? Could you explain this, please?

      1. Landrew

        I think what is meant by that “cheapest storage” comment. NG is the preferred peaker plant fuel source. Most grids of any fuel have uneven demand which requires a peak use generating plant. Endless windless days, endless darkness, extreme cold etc. In the Midwest this winter we had all of the above for weeks at a time. IF we had a true national grid, I would think that could solve all those issues. Could we ever take the profit out of power to resolve this, that’s another story.

    2. notabanker

      “Cheap” in the sense that politicians were purchased early in the process to insure laws were codified before environmental impacts were assessed and built into the cost of delivering this energy?

      What are the costs of releasing 74 tons of VOC’s per compression station annually into the atmosphere? Who bears those costs? Did the “free market” determine land acquisition costs for pipelines to transport gas to Canada? Or was maybe something like eminent domain used as the purchase vehicle?

      We’ve had a century plus to quantify the costs of coal and more than half that to evaluate nuclear. How much time was given to evaluate fracking and how many more decades will it take to understand all of those true costs?

    3. PlutoniumKun

      I think you mean for load balancing not storage.

      This is something of a red herring – there was never a great shortage of either natural gas or CCGT power turbines in the US prior to fracking – the increase in gas generated electricity is the result of peaking gas plants displacing coal for background load due to the drop in price of gas. In most parts of the US there was plenty of capacity for absorbing a substantial increase renewable energy within existing grid load systems. Usually its only when intermittent renewables start to exceed around 30-50% of capacity that you have load balancing problems.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        It’s for both load-balancing and storage. The need to back-fill solar and wind when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing should be obvious. But it turns out that we routinely store about a month’s worth of natural gas here in the US. Some of that is in explicit storage facilities (like the Aliso Canyon facility that experienced the massive methane leak back in 2015), and rest is stored in the pipelines themselves.

        However, we also store large reserves of coal and keep spare nuclear fuel rods on hand, so in that sense it’s nothing special. That’s the advantage of all these older technologies. We can store up fuel for extended operation, and variations in the weather don’t ever leave us scrambling.

  3. Andrew DeWit

    One criticism: wind generation capacity is not the same as actual power generated. The capacity factor for wind varies, geographically and by type (eg, onshore vs offshore), but is generally about 20% to 40% (here in Japan). The IEA website has a free comparative database for such renewable “capacity factors.”

    1. Louis Fyne

      to add: power storage is not 100% efficient either. pumped-water storage ~70% efficient.

      So to have 100,000 MW of electricity on a windless day, you need 143,000+MW of potential energy stored in reservoirs. That’s a lot of dams and flooded valleys.

      And most environmentalists will never allow their local mountain valley to be flooded to make way for a pumped-water dam/reservoir.

      Oh wait, i forgot the solution is having hundreds of thousands of gigawatts worth of batteries. (maybe one day, but not in the lifetime for a lot of readers here, barring Project Manhattan levels of coordinated research)

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        I believe you mean “hundreds of thousands of gigawatt-hours“. And yes, that’s the correct amount. Mark Jacobson of Stanford says we need 500 TWh of energy storage for the US. That’s 500,000 GWh. Given that the largest battery station in the US is about 125 MWh, we’d need 4 million of them.

        Or we could do 10 GWh pumped storage stations. But people should be warned that these are large stations. We’re not talking a couple of swimming pools connected by a small pipe. We’re talking giant 1000+ acre lakes carved into the sides of mountains, radically altering the terrain and nearby water tables. They’re huge. And we’d need 50 thousand of them.

        1. blennylips

          Reality does tend to make one Grumpy, heh?

          Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego has left a gold mines’ worth of material on his now inactive blog:

          Do the Math
          Using physics and estimation to assess energy, growth, options—by Tom Murphy

          He uses basic physics and chemistry to get upper limits for various schemes:

          A Nation-Sized Battery

          Posted on 2011-08-02

          Running a 2 TW electrified country for 7 days requires 336 billion kWh of storage.

          I’ll use lead-acid batteries as a baseline. Why? Because lead-acid batteries are the cheapest way to store electricity today. They’re bulky, sloshy, and very heavy, which makes them unsuitable for electric cars or laptop computers. But they’re very efficient, commonly achieving 85% or better energy efficiency in a charge cycle. The technology is well tested, having been around since 1859. And lead is a common element,

          I can’t resist the temptation to ask: what is the minimum amount of lead that is theoretically needed to build the battery? The chemical reaction for a lead-acid battery is such that each interaction involving the transformation of one lead atom to PbSO4 liberates one electron at a 2.1-volt potential. This electron then is bestowed 2.1 electron-volts (eV) of energy, amounting to 3.4×10−19 J (see page on energy relations). One kilowatt-hour is 3.6 million Joules (1000 W times 3600 seconds), so that it takes 1025 lead atoms (where every one participates). If you remember that Avogadro’s number is 6×1023, we need about 20 moles of lead atoms. At 207 g/mol, this comes out to about 4 kg per kWh of energy, which is a factor of four less than the realized value above. Real implementations always fall short of theoretical ideals

          Putting the pieces together, our national battery occupies a volume of 4.4 billion cubic meters, equivalent to a cube 1.6 km (one mile) on a side. The size in itself is not a problem: we’d naturally break up the battery and distribute it around the country. This battery would demand 5 trillion kg (5 billion tons) of lead.

          What about cost? At today’s price for lead, $2.50/kg, the national battery would cost $13 trillion in lead alone

          Like it or not, reduction and conservation weigh heavily in our future…

          1. polecat

            Yes, ‘reduction and conservation’ in just about everything in everyday life, but unfortunately, in the main … it only manifests in someone slinging a totebag … perhaps with some virtuous eco-slogan stenciled on the side ..

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              I have read that California has half the per capita per year use of electricity per person as any other state in the nation. If that is true, what have the Californians been doing to achieve that? Could the same things be done in 49 other states?

              Making and using electricity is the most carbo-gassy form of useable energy there is. Reducing the use of electricity would be the strongest way to reduce the carbo-gassy pollution output the most.

              So . . . what is the average per capita personal use of electricity per year on the part of individual retail-level electricity users living in personal dwelling units? No one ever ever EVER bothers to break out that figure so I can see where I stand versus all the other people who live in personal dwelling units and use personal electricity in their own personal lives.

              1. Grumpy Engineer

                For a good view of per-state statistics, see

                In it, you’ll see that Hawaii actually does the best. California is second best. Part of that is due to energy efficiency regulations, but the biggest reason is simply favorable weather. When it’s always 72 degrees and sunny, you use very little energy for AC or for heat. People in the Midwest (where winters can be brutal and summers surprisingly hot) will NEVER get by with as little energy as people in Hawaii and California do.

                You’ll see similar trends in Europe as well. People in Iceland, Finland, and Norway burn lots more energy per capita than people do in Italy or Greece. It’s because of the weather.

                1. drumlin woodchuckles

                  Thank you for these sources. I have just begun to look at them. I will root around deeper in them to see if they break out what I want to know.
                  At first glance that US-based table only gives BTU consumption per capita, leaving me helpless to know how much of that is as electricity as against natural gas as against other sources. And the Europe chart at first glance seems to show a per capita average of ALL electricity used per capita, not residential home-dweller electricity use per capita specifically.

                  But as I say, I will root around a little deeper to see if they give me the focused broken-out information I want or if these two charts continue to uphold the fine tradition of never ever EVER breaking out the figures down to the granularity of per capita use of electricity specifically by residential home-dwellers specifically . . . or the per capita use of natural gas specifically by residential home-dwellers specifically.

                  And if they don’t break those specific areas out, then I still won’t know how my home-dwelling residential use of electricity of 3.1 kilowatt-hours per day ( last month) or my home-dwelling residential use of natural gas at 1.1 CCF per day ( last month) compares to the average per-capita home-dwelling residential use of electricity specifically or natural gas specifically by other residential home-dwellers specifically.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I’d add one other big problem with fracking and climate change – I know of one expert when asked what the biggest environmental impact of fracking was and he said ‘we won’t see it until the industry goes bust’. He meant capped wells. The industry is notorious at skimping at grouting wells and its very difficult for regulators to know if its been done properly once the cap is in. A gas well of any type can leak methane into the atmosphere for decades after its been abandoned. Fracking requires far more individual wells than conventional gas use, so the problem is multiplied.

    1. Off The Street

      Sin in haste, repent at leisure.

      Fracking will continue until there is peace in the Middle East. It is the safety valve for energy flow in the face of potentially-catastrophic supply disruptions from Saudi, et al.

      I, for one, do not see any material change in US energy policy in the present circumstance. If anything, some hardening of positions given the problems in Syria seem likely, along the lines of Be patriotic, support our domestic energy production in the name of all that is necessary in DC, or was it Wall Street, or why not both?

      One bright spot may be increasing costs to extract fracked energy, what with those rising interest rates and investor hurdle rates. Maybe supplies underground are becoming scarcer due to the opposite of peak oil, depth oil!

      1. Synoia

        Fracking will continue until there is peace in the Middle East.

        Oh, until the rapture then. Or 2 deg C rise. One could argue Rapture = 2 dec C rise.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Well … no … actually, fracking will ramp up even harder after the 3.6 degree fahrenheit temperature rise. Why? Because it will take a lot more fracking to get all the gas needed to run all the more air conditioning that people will use in tomorrow’s superheating world.

          1. SimonGirty

            That’s basically the entire reason for most of the 19 recent gas pipelines, the length of the Appalachians. To get fracked gas from the Marcellus plays to where they can charge far more, as local utilities sell it as electricity. All the new power stations will soon be able to charge pretty much what they wish. Otherwise, the utilities would’ve built generators and powerlines instead of $5 to $8B pipelines, like ACP.

  5. Louis Fyne

    too late. Literally the world is locking itself into using NG/LNG (often with fuel oil as backup) as its preferred fuel source for the next 20 years with all these gas turbines that have been built/going up.

    Horses have left the barn. But hey, a lot of those pesky nuclear plants are going away.

    Congrats environmentalists, your disdain for nuclear plants was co-opted by the natural gas industry and Qatari/Australian/Louisiana LNG exporters

  6. UserFriendly

    Good thing we can all agree that nuclear power is a greater evil than climate change (comments more than the article) and we should shut down all those plants and make sure we don’t even try to make any newer better ones. And we should stop wind power because it kills birds and we should remove hydroelectric dams because rivers are better natural. The environmental movment is worse than useless. But who cares, most of the people with those opinions won’t be around when the consequences come due.

    1. Louis Fyne

      unfortunately, the argument that ocean acidification+climate change from CO2/methane/fracking is infinitely worse than using nuclear fission is falling on deaf ears.

      but at the rate we’re going the oceans won’t be totally acidic for 300 years. So it’s a-ok!

      ps, again not ignore the bad aspects of nuclear fission. but the risks are relative. at the current rate, 100% chance that the oceans will be acid-ifed on a diet of natural gas/fracking/LNG liquidification

        1. UserFriendly

          The only people that have anything to worry about with a meltdown are people in the immediate area. Even if 100% of all the radioactive material was vented from Chernobyl, 3 Mile Island, and Fukushima that would add less radioactivity than all the bomb testing we have done since the 40’s. If you told me we could eliminate fossil fuels in 10 years but we had to have a Fukushima level meltdown every 6 months I’d take that in a heartbeat. Even one a month would kill less people and animals than even the rosiest of projected transition rates to renewables.

              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                In America, those places are mostly in the desert where there is no water for keeping the nuke plants sufficiently cooled.

                1. UserFriendly

                  Yeah, I know. There are possible ways around that, have a fixed amount of water and use an enclosed evaporative cooling tower. I doubt anyone is going to rush into that though. And the NIMBY’s will win because the oil billionaires are on their side. It doesn’t matter that you are much more likely to die living close to any fossil fuel power plant than a nuclear one, even a nuclear one that melts down is safer than a coal plant. But this is America where facts and data are irrelevant in the face of feelings and money. I hate this country. I hate this species.

          1. Saylor

            Uh…, and the cumulative effect of meltdowns ????

            The northeast U.S. has had a problem with ‘acid rain’ for many years. It created a situation of a pH imbalance which affected fish and amphibian reproduction. But now, I am to understand that the beautiful pristine lakes of the Adirondacks now have fish that should not be eaten more than ‘infrequently’ due to the accumulation of pollution from the Ohio river valley. I find the argument of ‘either or’ regarding renewable energy versus fossil fuel or nuclear energy to be very short sighted. We will need all of it. But the nuke plants will have to be pebble based reactors and gas extraction will have to become much cleaner and more efficient.
            And someday…, solar panels in orbit beaming down energy by microwave will probably become the saving grace.

            1. UserFriendly

              Acid rain comes from coal plants emitting sulphur dioxide which gets turned into sulfuric acid in the atmosphere, a reaction that actually causes global cooling. All the coal plants left have SO2 scrubbers so acid rain isn’t coming back anytime soon.

              My point is that people are insanely biased against nuclear relative to its harm. The only energy production method with a lower death count per MW (not factoring in climate change) is hydroelectric. Once you factor in the likely human, animal, and ecosystem costs of climate change even having the worst, most unsafe, and inefficient nuclear plants are still a huge plus for the planet.

              Yet there is huge pushback to even investigate newer safer nuclear, much less building updated versions of the current reactors. Just one more reason I’m not having kids and give the species a 10% chance of survival past 2150.

              1. witters

                ”My point is that people are insanely biased against nuclear relative to its harm.”

                Ah, the measured remark of the type of Risk Manager we need here.

  7. Dirk77

    I need to call a friend who actually does this for a living to confirm. But using “temperature vs co2 timeline” on DuckDuckGo, graphs for the last 500 million years show the average global value peaks out at around 22C irregardless of CO2 levels. Polar ice vanishes completely at around 16C, so a rise to 14 from the current 12 is a lot. Ice caps vanishing causes a 60+ meter rise in sea level. More than enough to put a large part of D.C. and the east coast under water, though not enough for the proposed Amazon HQ2 near Dulles :(. TPTB could detonate nuclear bombs in the Yellowstone Caldera and get plenty of soot in the atmosphere to cool things, but given their total incompetence I’m sure things would get out of hand. On the plus side that would freeze Russia over, finally punishing those evil doers for interfering with our freedoms.

    1. Synoia

      Polar ice vanishes completely at around 16C, so a rise to 14 from the current 12 is a lot. Ice caps vanishing causes a 60+ meter rise in sea level. More than enough to put a large part of D.C. and the east coast under water, though not enough for the proposed Amazon HQ2 near Dulles.

      Only true if Bezos et al, do not shit. Sanitation here

      1. Dirk77

        Good point. I wonder if that is going to make my town completely unliveable if a good part of it goes underwater. I also wonder if the released pollutants from submerged structures will very great.

    2. Dirk77

      After talking with the friend, apparently roaming the internet can be perilous. Arguing from conditions hundreds of millions of years ago is risky bc the continents were in different places and solar radiation was less. Also, the global mean temperature right now is a little less than 15C not 12C as I stated. One interesting thing was about 50 million years ago it was 5-8C warmer than now. Palm trees and crocodiles existed above the artic circle.
      Geologic Temprature Record

      1. blennylips

        Arguing from conditions hundreds of millions of years ago is risky

        Indeed! Just ask Zenu about volcanoes 75 million years ago.

        You will want to watch

        Alaskan Palms, Antarctic Dinosaurs & Arctic Crocodiles: Dr Kirk Johnson (March 2018)
        The Brace Lecture is a free, annual event which honors the legacy of “legend in rock physics” and former EAPS Department Head Bill Brace, who passed away in 2012.

        One of the most surprising aspects of Earth’s history is the fact that the polar regions, which are the realm of ice and tundra today, have been extensively forested in the past. As today’s climate warms, these past polar ecosystems are becoming increasingly relevant as indicators of future conditions.

  8. Synapsid

    It’s worth keeping in mind that fracking is, practically, done only in the US now but the companies that do it (Halliburton is the largest) work all over the world. The technology will be applied wherever it can be, as in Canada and Argentina at the moment; Algeria and Saudi Arabia are looking into it, I believe.

    The US is certainly the easiest place to apply it because of extensive infrastructure already in place (pipelines and railroads, for instance, though in the Permian currently there’s a shortage of pipeline capacity), and private ownership of mineral rights, but it will be usable elsewhere.

  9. Louis Fyne

    it’s the scale of energy that the world uses/will use– which is why renewables won’t fill the gap for a long time (barring Star Trek levels of tech breakthroughs).

    As an example, last night at 3am in the dead middle of the night, NY State by itself was using 13,000 MW-hours worth of electricity. This is when everyone is asleep at home.

    Now scale this up by 50 states, then by the First World then by the industrializing developing world. then by population growth with a world level out optimistically at 10 billion people.

    Even with aggressive conservation, to hypothetically fill that need is a lot of renewables and an incredibly mind-boggling amount of energy storage—-just to provide electricity at 3am in April. Never mind when it’s 95 in Central Park.

    just being realistic. in vain.

    1. Synoia

      As an example, last night at 3am in the dead middle of the night, NY State by itself was using 13,000 MW-hours

      Your units need work.

      You can write this: using 13,000 MW (13,000 Mj/sec), or used 13,000 MW-hours over night.

      eg: At 3am last night (a point it time) NY State’s demand was 13,000 MW.

      There is Energy (MW-Hours) and Power (MW).

  10. Rates

    Please don’t tell us things like this.

    We want to drive those gas guzzling vehicles, have children, ec, etc.



  11. Jenny

    Seems like the USA should be sanctioned against for the harm it has caused with fracking to the rest of the world.

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