Fracked Gas: the debt-ridden morass formerly pimped as a ‘bridge fuel’

Stephen Metts
13 min readFeb 19, 2020

In the depths of the Great Recession, fracking took hold in American shale basins, spawning an unending, debt-fueled glut of domestic oil and gas. To prop up the industry, a euphemistic nomenclature was propagated, undergirded by the ubiquitous bridge fuel trope¹.

Linking together a dirty past (coal), a necessarily muddled present and a bright, clean mythical future, the Natural Gas as Bridge Fuel trope has always required a herculean suspension of disbelief. In practice, a bridge fuel operates to continue fossil fuel dependencies, bridging over inconvenient scientific facts in service of a mythical utopian future. Due to a myriad of factors, 2020 will see the final collapse of this collective delusion, swallowed by the cold waters of scientific fact and climate realities.

Five reasons the bridge fuel trope, once so enduring, is about to fully collapse

Reason I — Instrumentation

To Measure is to Know

— Lord Kelvin

While the ‘stimulating’ processes that define fracking as an ‘unconventional’ technique have been around since the 1860s, scaled applications across American shale basins were not fully implemented until the early 2000s². Between 2005 and 2010 the shale-gas industry in the United States grew by 45% a year³. The bridge fuel trope, first coined by the American Gas Association a decade prior, became the go-to sales slogan, deployed by Obama-era lobbyists steering public policy towards rapidly expanding and intensifying fracked gas⁴.

With the ascendancy of fracking came a series of academic attempts to quantify both the colossal scale of the new extraction processes; and importantly estimate a ‘leak rate’, i.e. escaped methane — both the primary component of ‘natural gas’, and an exponentially potent greenhouse gas when compared to ‘traditional’ CO2.

Satellite imaging of flaring atop Permian Basin fracked oil & gas fields, approximately 38 miles north of Pecos, Texas. | Data: NASA Black Marble ‘Night Lights’ + Yandex Satellite Base. Mapping visualization by author.
Stephen Metts

GIS Analyst & Instructor | Shale Gas Impacts, Environmental Justice & Climate Change Issues