Over the course of just three days this week, a landmark study on methane emissions — which seems to refute long-held anti-fracking arguments — was unveiled. The study got picked apart by the author of another, relatively famous fracking study and then that criticism got upended and torn apart by many others.
Considering that the study released Monday and was just the first in a series over the next year and a half aimed at accounting for methane releases throughout the gas supply chain, this is something you should probably expect more of.
On Monday, the University of Texas at Austin released a study that found that most well completions had equipment in place that caused methane emissions to drop 97% from the 2011 levels estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The study had reviewed 190 US gas production sites operated by nine of the biggest domestic gas producers, including Anadarko Petroleum, BG Group and Chevron.
While the report found that emissions from pneumatic devices at well sites were at least 30% higher than EPA’s estimates, and that pneumatics and equipment leaks account for roughly 40% of total US methane leaks from gas production, emissions from completions were mostly non-existent.
A day later, the co-author of a 2011 Cornell University fracking study called the UT study ”fatally flawed” and based on “inadequate” data. “They just need to go out and make more measurements,” said Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell and president of Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy.
Ingraffea criticized the UT study for using a small sample of the roughly 8,000 gas wells fracked in 2012 and only testing at sites at which production companies agreed to allow measurements.
Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist also at Cornell, in 2011 released a study that said as much as 60% more methane is leaked from a fracked gas well than a conventional well, and that gas may be a greater contributor to climate change than coal.
“Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon,” the two Cornell scientists wrote in that report. “The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”
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But several gas industry supporters, academics and even former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu were quick to refute the findings of that Cornell study, which has been criticized for shaky science and inaccurate findings since it was released.
“There was a very famous Cornell report which we looked at and decided it was not as credible as it —well, we didn’t think it was credible. I’ll just put it that way,” Chu said this week, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
In a piece for Forbes, Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project and a senior fellow at George Mason University, took umbrage with Ingraffea’s implication that the Environmental Defense Fund, which orchestrated the study, was “in bed with industry,” pointing out that the Cornell study was partly funded by the Park Foundation.
“The foundation funded the totemic movies of the anti-shale gas movement, Gasland and Gasland II, the cinematically engaging but scientifically questionable Josh Fox documentaries aired on HBO,” Entine wrote. “All told, it’s poured millions of dollars into anti-fracking ventures in recent years.”
On Monday, Howard Feldman, a director with the American Petroleum Institute, said the UT study shows that emissions from gas and associated liquids development represents only 0.42% of total production.
“This latest study shows that methane emissions are a fraction of estimates from just a few years ago,” Feldman said in a statement.
In April 2012, EPA finalized a rule requiring the installation of green-completion equipment on all newly fracked wells by January 1, 2015. Monday’s study found that about two-thirds of sites already have these technologies in place.
In May, EPA released data that said the gas industry was responsible for releasing 143.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent into the atmosphere in 2010, a 33.3% reduction from the estimated emissions for that same year in the agency’s 2012 version of the report. The gas industry has repeatedly called EPA’s estimates too high.