Sustained Outrage

Well site during active drilling to the Marcelllus Shale formation in Upshur County, West Virginia, in 2008. Photo copyright West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization.

We’ve talked before about whether the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas — especially when it comes from drilling into shale formations — has been understated in the rush to proclaim natural gas as a “clean” source of energy.

And now, there’s a new study out from researches at Cornell University which concludes:

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 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.

The study is due out this week in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Change. But The Hill has a story already out about the paper, reporting:

The conclusion is explosive because natural gas enjoys broad political support – including White House backing – due to its domestic abundance and lower carbon dioxide emissions when burned than other fossil fuels.

Cornell Prof. Robert Howarth, however, argues that development of gas from shale rock formations produced through hydraulic fracturing – dubbed “fracking” – brings far more methane emissions than conventional gas production.

Enough, he argues, to negate the carbon advantage that gas has over coal and oil when they’re burned for energy, because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas.

But Howarth’s research was previously discussed in great detail in a story by ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten, available here.

UPDATED: The industry website “Energy in Depth” has published a response attacking the new study.