Location, Location, Location

As in real estate, location in the production of natural gas is key to success.

For the last two years, I’ve been intrigued with the question of the environmental impact of the web. Could it be infinitesimal? When will the web’s footprint become a significant environmental factor? Thus, I was impressed with some statistics cited in the introduction to a paper on the greenhouse gas emissions (GHE) associated with telecommunications networks. The base case was the metrics gathered by the California Research and Education Network (CalREN) for February 2012. The authors selected these data as the best available from a small set of options.

While the main thrust of the paper focused on comparing models of the computer network as a function of structure and load, it offered several interesting footprints. The global information and communications technology industry consumed 23 TWh (terawatt hours) in 2012. The associated CO2 burden is about 2% of global emission, which is comparable to global aviation. Without significant improvements in efficiency, power consumption and associated emissions for IT are forecast to double by 2020.

Recently, I wrote on mitigating the environmental impact of natural gas (NG) produced by fracking of the Marcellus Shale in Western PA and NY. Essentially, the production water that comes with the NG is so toxic that it should be reinjected back into the formation. The same is true for the combustion products since the radon content is high.

Some other considerations are: 1) A server farm requires cooling. The rule of thumb is about 50 W of cooling for each 100 W of computing. Since global warming is the concern, it is prudent to sequester the heat generated from cooling by injecting it underground. It might be practical to use the produced water to inject the waste heat from the cooler back into the formation. Also, co-location of electrical generation to the server farm would reduce the need for backup generators, which are required when the farm is located remotely from the generators, as is current practice for server farms in Washington State.

In summary, at least for some NG fields, the environmental impact can be reduced by using closed-loop combustion electrical generation designs closely co-located with power-consuming operations.1 The best environmental mitigation of America’s new NG bounty appears to be location, location, location. Similar considerations may fit many locations around the world.


  1. Chan, C.A.; Gygax, A.F. et al. Envir. Sci.Technol. 2012, 47, 485–92.

Robert L. Stevenson, Ph.D., is a Consultant and Editor of Separation Science for American Laboratory/Labcompare; e-mail: rlsteven@yahoo.com.