A study conducted by professors at Cornell University concludes that extracting natural gas from shale formations using hydraulic fracturing generates more greenhouse-gas emissions than burning coal. An oil and gas trade group, however, says the study was based on weak data regarding methane leaks.
Posted by Ann Rascalli
The study found that natural gas obtained from shale formations using fracking releases large amounts of methane. When taking methane emissions into account, natural gas from shale formations produces more greenhouse gases than coal and coal-fired electricity generation over a 20-year time horizon.
Oil and gas interests believe the study isn’t reliable. To be sure, its release complicates the current politics of natural gas, which is viewed by the White House, many members of Congress and key environmental and clean energy advocates as an important component of a new domestic energy strategy to reduce reliance on coal and oil for power generation.
Here in Colorado, natural gas is a cornerstone of Xcel Energy’s plan to meet the renewable energy mandate promulgated by the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act of last year.
The utility is switching several coal fired plants to natural-gas powered generation as part of that plan.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu has been recently tasked by the Administration to study ways to improve the safety of natural-gas production, and Senate lawmakers, meanwhile, are in the process of developing a nationwide clean-energy standard following the President’s stated goal of having the nation generate 80% of electricity from clean-energy sources by 2035.
Back to the Cornell Study. The American Petroleum Institute, said it relied on “weak” data regarding methane leaks and didn’t take into account the efficiency of natural gas when used for power generation.
“The data is pretty weak for the shale gas emissions,” said Russell Jones, senior economic adviser at the American Petroleum Institute. “The basis for those precise numbers is not very precise.”
Robert Howarth, one of the authors of the report and a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell was surprised at the high methane number. “I did not expect the methane number to be as big as it is.”
The Cornell study “certainly suggests that, if you’re going to include natural gas in such a system, you have to get better data and account for these emissions,” Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate center, told the Wall Street Journal.