The Poetry of Science – Episode 11: The Cost of Shale

This episode is inspired by recent research, which suggests that fracking may be responsible for the increase in atmospheric methane that has been observed over the past decade.

Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, accounting for about 20% of global emissions. Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in the amount of methane emitted into our atmosphere, and new research suggests that fracking is likely to be partly responsible for this increase.
In this episode Dr Illingworth explores this research and what it means for our environment.  

Hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as fracking – is the process used to extract shale gas. Shale gas is a form of unconventional natural gas (mostly methane), and in the process of its extraction, some of it escapes into the atmosphere. The methane from shale gas is lighter than that from conventional natural gas, giving it a particular chemical composition, which matches that which has been observed in our atmosphere in recent years. The methane that is emitted from biogenic sources is also lighter, which explains why other studies attributed these sources to be the probable cause of any recent increase in global methane emissions. However, such estimates could not fully explain reports of increased emissions from fossil-fuel sources over this time period. By correcting earlier analyses for this difference, this new research suggests that shale-gas production in North America (where almost all of the global fracking occurred prior to 2015) has contributed to a third of the global increase in all methane emissions over the past decade.

Listen to the audio version of this episode’s science poem

Read this episode’s science poem

Leaky pipelines cannot excuse
The vileness of your touch
As it seeps malevolently
From its ancient, grainy prison;
Your eccentric composition
Creating chemical fingerprints
That dance lightly across the
Soft and drifting breeze,
Masking your toxic presence
To finger innocuous fields
Of rice and herded scapegoats
With the legacy of your shame.

Blinded by the proceeds
That flow like pyrite from
Your snaking tendrils,
We welcome your loose embrace
Like a panacea to a sickness
That we no longer wish to cure.
Filling our skies and lungs with
Your filthy expirations until
It is too late.
Too late for you to crawl back
Underneath the rock from
Which you came.

By Dr Sam Illingworth

External Resources

Read the scientific study that inspired it here.

The original episode appeared here.

The Poetry of Science blog.

Go back to The Poetry of Science

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