Risky Business | The Economic Risk of Climate Change in the US | Risky Business

Risky Business | The Economic Risk of Climate Change in the US | Risky Business.

IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.



US Chamber petitions EPA to lower gas-well emissions estimates – The Hill’s E2-Wire

US Chamber petitions EPA to lower gas-well emissions estimates – The Hill’s E2-Wire.

The Radio Ecoshock Show: Fracking Gas = Climate Crash

The Radio Ecoshock Show: Fracking Gas = Climate Crash.

FM London. Published Wednesdays.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fracking Gas = Climate Crash


For years, governments, industry, and TV ads told us natural gas is the safe bridge fuel while we move away from dirty coal and oil.

Cornell University scientist Robert Howarth wondered “Is that true?”. When Howarth found no science to back up big claims for the gas industry, he and a team from Cornell went to work.

The results are startling. In the short-term, escaped methane from gas fracking threaten to tip us into catastrophic climate change. The total impact of the shale gas industry may be worse than coal. In the United States, where thousands and thousands of new gas wells are drilled, almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions may come from methane. The “natural” gas industry is the largest single source of methane emissions.

The frackers vent loads of gases for the first two weeks after drilling, before connecting pipes. They could collect (and sell) this “waste” methane (read “climate killer”) but don’t bother. Natural gas storage facilities also vent methane as part of their designed operation. Old leaking gas delivery systems complete the job.

Methane is rising in the atmosphere. New science from Dr. Drew Shindell shows in the first 20 years, methane is 105 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Even at 100 years, Shindell finds methane is combining with other air pollution to generate an impact 33 times more powerful than CO2. Not 21, as determined in the 1990’s by the IPCC. That old figure is still being used by industry and governments. Expect a change as Shindell becomes the new lead author of this section in the upcoming IPCC.

You must hear Dr. Robert Howarth explain the importance of new science on methane. he is the expert, I am not.

The industry insists we only calculate methane over a 100 year period. But the latest report from the International Energy Agency (generally a conservative source) says our climate future will be determined in the next 5 years. More new science suspects the burst of methane helped tip us into a mass extinction 250 million years ago.

The 20 year time frame for methane could be the jolt that tips other systems into positive feedback loops. Like igniting the peat in the Arctic. Or warming shallow seas enough to release frozen methane clathrates from the bottom (which started to happen last year). If either of those go, we are toast.

Robert Howarth has taken a lot of abuse for even daring to assemble a comprehensive look at the total greenhouse gas impact of the gas fracking industry, whether it is coal bed gas or shale gas. And we haven’t even discussed the fact fracking is now known to cause earthquakes, uses incredible amounts of fresh water, and risks polluting whole watersheds with a single leak of the mass toxic chemicals pumped underground.

The United Kingdom may be next. With gas production from the North Sea fields down by 25 percent, there is a public relations push to get lots of gas fracking in the UK. This may be the next big environmental battle there.

Fracking mania has hit Canada and Australia as well. Everyone needs to know what the latest science says.

Program includes 27 minute speech by Professor Robert Howarth of Cornell at ASPO USA 2011, November 2nd in Washington D.C. Recorded by Carl Etnier of Equal Time Radio, Vermont. My thanks to ASOP USA for this fine presentation.

Then a follow-up interview this week with Robert Howarth, to fill in his hurried climax of the speech – that methane emissions, when calculated over 20 years, using the new higher rate discovered by Drew Shindell – could add up to at least 44% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States! We discuss this, and the importance of a 2006 paper by Dr. James Hansen of NASA, on the importance of controlling methane emissions.

I covered that in 2006 here for blog entry, or download the audio here.

In 2006, I also put out a “Methane Primer” which is still helpful. Blog for that primer is here, and the audio for download here.

But now I’ll have to revisit that piece, since like the IPCC, I was told methane was only 21 times more powerful than CO2. The science moves so fast, it is already outdated just 5 years later.

Essentially, if we cannot control methane, we still lose the climate known over millenia, even if we could limit carbon dioxide emissions. Methane alone can tip us.

The natural gas industry, Howarth says, is the single largest source of methane in the U.S. Shale gas fracking makes that much, much worse.


We add an interview promised last week, with Samuel Labudde, about the billion dollar scam ripping off carbon credits.

Companies in China are threatening to release powerful greenhouse gases, unless these fake credits are continued. Ratepayers in Europe are being blackmailed.

LaBudde, a noted wildlife biologist, is also covering the climate beat for the Environmental Investigation Agency for the American branch of the organization.

To honor the craziness of gas fracking in Australia, the theme music this week is “My Water’s on Fire Tonight” written and performed by David Holmes, Andrew Bean, Niel Bekker. Australian compilation album: “Whole Lotta Frackin’ Going On

The lyrics in “My Water’s On Fire Tonight” is a product of Studio 20 NYU (bit.ly/hzGRYP) in collaboration with ProPublica.org (bit.ly/5tJN). The song is based on ProPublica’s investigation on hydraulic fractured gas drilling (read the full investigation here: bit.ly/15sib6).

Recording credit: Robert Howarth speech at ASPO recorded by Carl Etnier of Equal Time Radio, Vermont. Speech courtesy of ASPO USA.

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Howarth, Ingraffea Shale Gas Study on Global Warming Discredited by U.S. Department of Energy | Marcellus Drilling News

Howarth, Ingraffea Shale Gas Study on Global Warming Discredited by U.S. Department of Energy | Marcellus Drilling News.

Comment from Howarth:

We are working on a more detailed response, but in the meanwhile, I have
sent the following message out to some folks.  Feel free to share,
 “We are working hard to try to understand what the DOE/NETL analysis  is based upon.  This is not easy, as their data are not well documented in the PowerPoint from their talk.  Apparently, NETL is working towards publication of a technical report, which one would hope would have far better documentation.  But that is not yet available to us.  To date, the PowerPoint available to us and to the public has not seen any rigorous, independent peer review.
We have ascertained that the NETL analysis has an estimate for methane  emissions from coal  that is similar to ours.  Therefore, the reasons for the differences between their estimates and ours lie elsewhere.  At this point, we believe there are 4 major differences:
1) we believe they have underestimated the fugitive emissions of methane.  They apparently assume no emissions from storage and from distribution systems, and their estimate for >transmission losses are far lower than the estimates we developed for losses from transmission, storage, and distribution.  Their estimates are also far lower than those from the US EPA, which we also feel are too low (as is discussed in our paper).
2) they have a very high, optimistic estimate for the total amount of gas produced over the life of a well.  This has the effect of giving a low estimate for percentage losses from venting and leaks, particularly during the initial well completion period.  Only time will tell what the actual production of these wells will be, as the technology is too new to know.  However, we used the best available information on estimates of life-time production, thoroughly documented in our paper.  The NETL estimates are far higher.
3) they used a global warming potential for methane of 25, based on a 100-year time integral and the old data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  We used values of 33 for a 100-year time integral and 105 for a 20-year time integral, based on more recent science (Shindell et al. 2009).  Their use of the older science results in significantly down-playing the importance of methane venting and leakage on the climate system.
4) they focused solely on generation of electricity.  We included generation of electricity in our study, and the analysis by David Hughes for the Post Carbon Institute took that even further.  HOWEVER, only 30% of the natural gas in the US is used for electricity.  The other 70% is used in home and commercial heating and for industrial processes.  To focus on just electricity provides the most optimistic view of natural gas, as that is the only use where natural gas has an efficiency advantage over other fossil fuels.
This focus on electricity generation by the NETL group is curious, as in their own talk, they emphasized that it was not likely that natural gas from shales would replace coal for electricity generation over coming decades.  Rather, they predict a DECREASE in the amount of natural gas used to generate electricity in the US.  The development of shale gas is expected largely to replace conventional gas in its current uses, and they predict some increase in the use of gas for industrial purposes.  Both the replacement of conventional gas by shale gas and the increased use of gas for industrial purposes will significantly increase the overall methane emissions from the US, and the overall greenhouse gas footprint of our nation.  The NETL study chose to ignore these aspects.”
Robert W. Howarth, Ph.D.
David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and
        Environmental Biology, Cornell University
Telephone:  1-607-255-6175

GHG Howarth update on footprint of gas vs coal — Jan 2011

GHG update for web — Jan 2011 (2).pdf (application/pdf Object).

Assessment of the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations
Obtained by High-Volume, Slick-Water Hydraulic Fracturing

Robert W. Howarth
David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology, Cornell University
(Revised January 26, 2011)
Natural gas is widely advertised and promoted as a clean burning fuel that produces less greenhouse gas
emissions than coal when burned. While it is true that less carbon dioxide is emitted from burning natural
gas than from burning coal per unit of energy generated, the combustion emissions are only part of story
and the comparison is quite misleading. With funding from the Park Foundation, my colleagues Renee
Santoro, Tony Ingraffea, and I have
assessed the likely footprint from
natural gas in comparison to coal.
We submitted a draft of our work
to a peer-reviewed journal in
November, and now have a revised
manuscript under consideration by
the journal. The revision is
improved with input from
reviewers and also uses new
information from a November 2010
report from the EPA. The EPA
report is the first significant update
by the agency on natural gas
emission factors since 1996, and
concludes that emissions –
particularly for shale gas – are
larger than previously believed.
Our research further supports this