A Knock on Fracking’s Footprint

Posted by By at 13 April, at 10 : 36 AM Print

Researchers at Cornell University are blowing open the notion that natural gas is the cleanest energy source behind solar and wind. Robert Howarth and his team sized up the greenhouse footprint of natural gas.

Among the study’s primary findings: fracking for natural gas is more dangerous to the environment than mining for coal.

Fracking is a technique used in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, and similar reserves to get at gas trapped in rock.

Howarth’s study concludes that natural gas does at least 20 percent more damage to the environment than coal. The study analyzed methane emissions and found that it causes large spikes to its footprint; especially when compared to the extraction of coal over 20 years.

Howarth told Reuters,”the large greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming.” Howarth went on to say, “The full footprint should be used for planning for alternative energy futures that adequately consider global climate change.”

The gas industry has come out swinging calling the study “bunk.”

“The study lacks credibility and is full of contradictions,” said Russell Jones who is a senior advisor with the American Petroleum Institute. “The main author is an evolutionary biologist and an anti-natural gas activist who is not credentialed to do this kind of chemical analysis.”

Howarth’s findings have apparently taken the Environmental Protection Agency by surprise. Some within the agency are now saying that a federal review is needed to analyze the global warming effect Howarth links to fracking.

This study is an important piece of information that we need to bring into the discussion,” said Robert Perciasepe, a deputy administrator with the EPA. Perciasepe said if the problem is addressed correctly a solution is at hand, “these are generally problems that can be addressed through proper controls or through collection controls at the wellhead.”

Howarth admits more research is needed, and the data has limits, but says his work meets high scientific standards.

Jones, with the American Petroleum Institute, maintains the study manipulated numbers and methodologies to forge a particular outcome.

Howarth told Reuters, “This is not advocacy. This is science.”

(Howarth’s study will soon be published in what he calls a highly respected journal. You can sample a sliver of the analysis by clicking on Rock The Capital.)

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