A report released on Friday by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) has found that increasing use of shale gas can massively reduce some of the world's deadliest air pollution.
As well as slashing carbon emissions and providing enticing economic prospects the findings of the report should present a compelling case for those who value the environment to embrace fracking.
Reduce deadly PM2.5
PM2.5 are microscopic dust particles created from burning fuel. These tiny particles can penetrate the lungs where they are absorbed into the blood and lead to cardiorespiratory disease and are one of the major contributors to air pollution.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that PM2.5 is responsible for about 75,000 premature deaths per year in the US. The use of coal for energy is a major source of rising levels of PM.25.
In the US, shale gas production has grown by a factor of 17 over the past 13 years. Shale now supplies 35 per cent of US natural gas. Compared to coal, shale gas results in a 400-fold reduction of PM2.5, a 4,000-fold reduction in sulphur dioxide, a 70-fold reduction in nitrous oxides, and more than a 30-fold reduction in mercury. Air pollution is still major killer globally with the Health Effects Institute estimating that air pollution led to 3.2m deaths in the year 2010.
Slash CO2 emissions
While shale gas is a fossil fuel, most of the increases in CO2 are coming from increasing coal use in developing countries. The CPS report estimates if their increased energy needs could be met from natural gas instead of coal, global warming could be slowed by a factor of two to three.
This would mean that instead of having 30 to 50 years before the world reaches twice the preindustrial carbon dioxide levels the we may have 60 to 100 years. If developing countries continue to use coal their PM2.5 and greenhouse emissions will also continue to grow.
The authors also highlight the need for energy conservation, especially in China. However, they emphasise that this will be far from sufficient to tackle the enormous environmental challenges facing the planet.
Europe and China both pay a high price for imported natural gas, typically paying $10m (£6m) British Thermal Unit. With such high prices Europe and China are in a strong position to exploit vast deposits of shale gas at greatly reduced cost compared to natural gas imports.
The report suggests that Europe could be the testing and proving ground where innovative technology can be trialled and improved while still profitable. If the same technology and expertise is brought to developing countries they can also enjoy a more environmentally friendly energy mix.
The report also addresses many of the objections to fracking such as the increased frequency of earthquakes and the dangers to water supply. It documents how these concerns have been wildly exaggerated and in some cases are wholly spurious.
The report was written by Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California Berkeley since 1980 and Elizabeth Muller, co-founder of Berkeley Earth a non-profit working on environmental issues.