Sustained Outrage

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials just finished up a telephone press briefing in which they discussed and then took a few questions about their new final rule aimed at reducing air emissions from oil and natural gas drilling and production operations that involve hydraulic fracturing.  From EPA’s just-issued news release:

In response to a court deadline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized standards to reduce harmful air pollution associated with oil and natural gas production. The updated standards, required by the Clean Air Act, were informed by the important feedback from a range of stakeholders including the public, public health groups, states and industry.

As a result, the final standards reduce implementation costs while also ensuring they are achievable and can be met by relying on proven, cost-effective technologies as well as processes already in use at approximately half of the fractured natural gas wells in the United States. These technologies will not only reduce 95 percent of the harmful emissions from these wells that contribute to smog and lead to health impacts, they will also enable companies to collect additional natural gas that can be sold.

Natural gas is a key component of the nation’s clean energy future and the standards released today make sure that we can continue to expand production of this important domestic resource while reducing impacts to public health, and most importantly builds on steps already being taken by industry leaders.

You can read the full rule here or check out an EPA fact sheet here or a summary of changes between the final rule and the initial EPA proposed rule here.

Interestingly, special interest groups from both the industry and environmental groups were clearly briefed about the rule and knew details of the final version long before anybody in the general public was able to read the rule.

Word of what’s in the rule first broke from Bloomberg, which reported — based on comments from an industry lobbyist — that EPA had agreed to give gas operators until 2015 to comply with the toughest emissions reductions requirements. First thing this morning, environmental groups were sending out “embargoed” news releases, with their comments on what EPA told them was in the final rule.

Under a legal settlement with environmental groups, this final rule was required to be issued by yesterday.  The version posted on EPA’s website today indicates it was signed by agency chief Lisa P. Jackson yesterday, but agency officials have not indicated why they didn’t make it public until this afternoon.

At the start of today’s press call, EPA air quality chief Gina McCarthy made clear the administration’s view on the ongoing boom in natural gas drilling in places like West Virginia:

Natural gas is key to the country’s clean energy future.

EPA officials didn’t dwell on the potential climate change impacts of the natural gas boom, and I didn’t get a chance to ask Gina McCarthy my question, which was going to be about scientific papers like this one from MIT, which warn that the natural gas push threatens to crowd out cleaner renewable energy sources.  But in its fact sheet on the final rule, EPA did say:

Today’s rules also would yield significant reductions in methane, a potent greenhouse gas. EPA’s Regulatory Impact Analysis for the rule estimates the value of the climate co-benefits that would result from this reduction at $440 million annually by 2015. This includes the value of climate-related benefits such as avoided health impacts, crop damage and damage to coastal properties.

There’s another study out today that questions the continued conventional wisdom that the natural gas boom will be good for dealing with global warming.

The Wall Street Journal has a report out on the study, and they tell us:

As U.S. lawmakers promote natural gas as a way to reduce air pollution, a scientific study published this week questions the benefits of the fuel when used to power vehicles and generate electricity.

The study authors said methane leaks from the production and transportation of natural gas should be studied in greater detail before the U.S. adopts any major policy shifts.

The study, co-written by scientists at several universities and the environmental group Environmental Defense Fund, wades into an increasingly murky area of energy research. In it, scientists said the production of natural gas results in methane leaking into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change and limits the environmental benefits of natural gas. Methane, the primary component in natural gas, is more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas but decomposes more quickly in the atmosphere.

The research comes at a time when President Obama and other U.S. lawmakers are hailing natural gas as a fuel of the future, capable of replacing coal in power plants and gasoline in cars. That is because it is thought to be better for the environment and is produced in abundance in the U.S.

We’ve reported on this issue before here, here, here, here and here.

The latest study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it concludes:

Natural gas is seen by many as the future of American energy: a fuel that can provide energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process. However, there has also been confusion about the climate implications of increased use of natural gas for electric power and transportation. We propose and illustrate the use of technology warming potentials as a robust and transparent way to compare the cumulative radiative forcing created by alternative technologies fueled by natural gas and oil or coal by using the best available estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from each fuel cycle (i.e., production, transportation and use). We find that a shift to compressed natural gas vehicles from gasoline or diesel vehicles leads to greater radiative forcing of the climate for 80 or 280 yr, respectively, before beginning to produce benefits. Compressed natural gas vehicles could produce climate benefits on all time frames if the well-to-wheels CH4 leakage were capped at a level 45–70% below current estimates. By contrast, using natural gas instead of coal for electric power plants can reduce radiative forcing immediately, and reducing CH4 losses from the production and transportation of natural gas would produce even greater benefits. There is a need for the natural gas industry and science community to help obtain better emissions data and for increased efforts to reduce methane leakage in order to minimize the climate footprint of natural gas.


An important new study from the University of Colorado’s School of Public Health raises questions about potential public health impacts of the natural gas drilling boom in West Virginia and across the country. Here’s what the news release from the school says:

In a new study, researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health have shown that air pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing or fracking may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites.

“Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural gas development that has focused largely on water exposures to hydraulic fracturing,” said Lisa McKenzie, Ph.D., MPH, lead author of the study and research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health.

There are media reports out about the study in the Denver Post and on the website of Colorado Energy News.

According to the news release:

The report, based on three years of monitoring, found a number of potentially toxic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near the wells including benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. Benzene has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a known carcinogen. Other chemicals included heptane, octane and diethylbenzene but information on their toxicity is limited.

The report, which looked at those living about a half-mile from the wells, comes in response to the rapid expansion of natural gas development in rural Garfield County, in western Colorado.

Typically, wells are developed in stages that include drilling followed by hydraulic fracturing , the high powered injection of water and chemicals into the drilled area to release the gas. After that, there is flowback or the return of fracking and geologic fluids, hydrocarbons and natural gas to the surface. The gas is then collected and sold.

Garfield County asked the Colorado School of Public Health to assess the potential health impacts of these wells on the community of Battlement Mesa with a population of about 5,000.

The study is due out soon in the journal Science of the Total Environment, and here’s the abstract:

Residents living ≤ ½ mile from wells are at greater risk for health effects from NGD than are residents living > ½ mile from wells. Subchronic exposures to air pollutants during well completion activities present the greatest potential for health effects.   The subchronic non-cancer hazard index (HI) of 5 for residents ≤ ½ mile from wells was driven primarily by exposure to trimethylbenzenes, xylenes, and aliphatic hydrocarbons.  Chronic HIs were 1 and 0.4. for residents ≤ ½ mile from wells and > ½ mile from wells, respectively.  Cumulative cancer risks were 10 in a million and 6 in a million for residents living  ≤ ½ mile and > ½ mile from wells, respectively, with benzene as the major contributor to the risk.

Keep in mind that the new natural gas drilling law championed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin allows drilling in West Virginia within 625 feet of occupied residences, well within the 1/2-mile (2640 feet) distance cited in the study as the area where residents would face greater health risks.

Yesterday morning, I happened to put in a call to my old buddy, Tomblin administration Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, to ask him a couple of questions about the Marcellus Shale drilling boom — things that were kind of far out in the weeds related to the various proposals out there for a natural gas “cracker” plant that some folks believe is the region’s biggest economic development project in a generation.

By the time Secretary Burdette called me back, rumors were starting to swell that an announcement was coming very soon about one of those proposals, the multi-billion-dollar project from Shell Chemical.  When I asked him about it, Burdette confirmed that state officials had been told an announcement was coming. Shell told the governor what they had decided, he said, but any information on that would have to wait until Shell went public first.

But from the tone of Secretary Burdette’s comments, it was pretty clear how things had played out:

Under any circumstances, it’s going to be a good thing, Some of us are going to be applauding, and some of us are not.  I know there’s an awful lot of pride in trying to be the one who gets the deal, but it really does have a huge regional impact.

The official announcement from Shell came shortly before 1 p.m. From there, the race was on among the West Virginia press corps to figure out how the Shell facility — so much sought after by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state business boosters — ended up going instead to Beaver County, Pa.

In a quick blog post yesterday,  I tried to provide some context about how tax breaks and other incentives rarely seem to have much to do with these decisions, and how improving our state’s educational system and infrastructure might help more in bringing new jobs and a higher quality of life to residents.  The good folks at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy soon posted their own take, explaining that if taxes alone were the issue, Shell would have been better off going to Ohio.

It appears that my friend Larry Messina at The Associated Press got the big scoop, with his reporting of this part of the story:

West Virginia lost the battle to attract Shell’s multibillion-dollar chemical plant because of the costs of relocating a casino that occupies the company’s in-state choice for a site, sources told The Associated Press.

Shell announced plans Thursday to build the so-called “cracker” plant in Monaca, Pa., about 12 miles from the West Virginia border. Two individuals with direct knowledge of the negotiations with Shell, but who were unauthorized to speak publicly about them, said the company’s preferred West Virginia location encroached on Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.

Other theories came rushing out. The State Journal let gas industry lobbyist Corky DeMarco suggest that labor unions were to blame, for having the gall to criticize another industry project that’s not hiring local union construction workers. Shell didn’t mention this, and ACT Foundation director Steve White made a strong argument that DeMarco is simply wrong. Republicans activists like former Don Blankenship operative Greg Thomas were falling all over themselves to paint this as Gov. Tomblin’s fault, saying it shows the need for the state to “lower taxes on new investment, controlling cost of government, comprehensive legal reform and implement reasonable regulations” along with “ethics and election reform to show potential investors WV isn’t run by corrupt career politicians.” Over at West Virginia MetroNews, Hoppy Kercheval is so rabid to get a Republican governor that he’s pushing candidate Bill Maloney’s argument along these lines, despite admitting in today’s commentary that Maloney and his campaign are probably wrong about it.

But the truth is: We’ll never really know what happened.

That’s because 99 little words in the West Virginia Code give our state’s economic development agents an exemption from the state public records law and, in the process, a free ride from any real public accountability. That’s right. Check out W.Va. Code 5B-2-1, the second paragraph:

Any documentary material, data or other writing made or received by the West Virginia development office or other public body, whose primary responsibility is economic development, for the purpose of furnishing assistance to a new or existing business shall be exempt from the provisions of article one, chapter twenty-nine-b of this code: Provided, That any agreement entered into or signed by the development office or public body which obligates public funds shall be subject to inspection and copying pursuant to the provisions of said article as of the date the agreement is entered into, signed or otherwise made public.

Where did this nifty little piece of state law come from? Well, it was rushed into the code at the behest of state business leaders and the Underwood administration back in 1997, after The Charleston Gazette won a state Supreme Court ruling that forced the West Virginia Development Office to release records about its efforts to lure a $1 billion pulp and paper mill to Apple Grove in Mason County. Back in the day, I wrote a couple of hundred stories about this project, which was highly controversial because of its potential to pollute the Ohio River with dioxin, strip West Virginia hills bare of timber, and bring in non-union, out-of-state workers for its construction.

Development Office officials under Gov. Gaston Caperton had given us some records about their efforts, detailing some requests for large, tax-free state loans, highway improvements, and other incentives that Parsons and Whittemore wanted for the project. But they had withheld hundreds of pages of records, claiming a broad ability to withhold from release any correspondence between state officials and outside parties like the pulp mill developers. The Gazette thought the people had a right to know what sorts of deals were being offered on their behalf, so the newspaper went to court.

In a unanimous opinion issued in mid-December 1996, the state Supreme Court ruled that we were right. The Development Office had to give us many more records, and some of the revelations were fascinating (subscription required):

— State agents met privately with Mason County schools officials to arrange the closing of a local elementary school that was inconveniently located near the proposed mill site.

— Public employees at the Development Office encouraged state environmental officials and legislators to weaken pollution limits to make the mill’s operation easier and less expensive (but also more polluting).

— One state official — longtime state development agent Rolland Phillips — even castigated Gov. Caperton for not taking a strong enough public stance in favor of the mill.

— Phillips also ghost-wrote letters for the company, and then wrote the state’s official replies.

— Other documents showed that the project was eligible for as much as $750 million in Super Tax Credits, far more than the $150 million that Development Officials suggested.

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney is certainly getting a lot of attention for his remarks about the tax credit legislation Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin eased through the legislature this session in the hopes that it would help lure a natural gas “cracker” plant to West Virginia. Speaking with my buddy Hoppy Kercheval on the MetroNews show Talkline, Maloney said:

If we’d fix our courts and our tort reform issues we’d stand a lot better chance of getting a cracker than we would be in passing this huge bill that we just pull down our pants to get a cracker, when everybody should be getting the same tax breaks.

But perhaps the real story about this sort of thing was further into today’s Daily Mail, where business editor George Hohmann revealed the findings of a new report by Gov. Tomblin’s own Tax Department about these sorts of tax breaks and other incentives, concluding among other things:

The credit programs may help some individual business taxpayers, but the overall impact of the credit programs on economic growth is arguable.

Remember that when the cracker tax break passed, Gov. Tomblin said:

To spur economic development, attracting an ethane steam cracker has been my number one goal and I am so pleased, with this vote, the legislature has sent a clear signal that they are joining me in this effort. This tax relief bill, I believe, showcases our State’s commitment to being a great business partner today and long into the future.

Greg LeRoy and his group Good Jobs First have written extensively about the ineffectiveness of tax incentives as an economic development tool, and the great investigative reporters Barlett and Steele have also exposed these sorts of programs.

Of course, the lack of any proof that such tax breaks work overall didn’t stop West Virginia lawmakers from falling all over themselves to approve the governor’s cracker bill — and to do so without even having any clear analysis of what the potential costs of the legislation might be. It took the good folks over at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy to inform us that the price could easily be $300 million.

Not for nothing, but the most recent reports (see here, here and here) indicate it might be a while before Shell actually moves forward with the cracker plant West Virginia political leaders are spending so much energy trying to lure to our state …

Chesapeake faces criminal Clean Water Act probe

West Virginia media outlets are focusing in this morning on a report out of Oklahoma about Chesapeake Energy facing a criminal investigation of Clean Water Act violations at some of its operations here in West Virginia.

The Oklahoman reported today:

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is facing possible criminal charges as the U.S. Department of Justice investigates whether the oil and natural gas producer violated the Clean Water Act in West Virginia.

Chesapeake is cooperating with the investigation, which it disclosed this week in a regulatory filing. “We are working with the government to resolve potential violations at three sites in Marshall and Wetzel counties,” spokesman Michael D. Kehs said Thursday. “These actions occurred primarily in 2008 and 2009, and are related to road maintenance and pond construction,” he said. “Because an investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to offer further public comment at this time.”

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There’s a major new study out this week that provides more evidence to support questions about whether natural gas is really better than coal in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dealing with the climate crisis.

I first saw a report of the study on Joe Romm’s excellent Climate Progress blog. Joe is calling this a “bombshell study,” and he explains:

How much methane leaks during the entire lifecycle of unconventional gas has emerged as a key question in the fracking debate.  Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4).  And methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than (CO2), which is released when any hydrocarbon, like natural gas, is burned.

Even without a high-leakage rate for shale gas, we know that “Absent a Serious Price for Global Warming Pollution, Natural Gas Is A Bridge To Nowhere.”

But the leakage rate does matter.  A major 2011 study by Tom Wigley of the Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) concluded:

The most important result, however, in accord with the above authors, is that, unless leakage rates for new methane can be kept below 2%, substituting gas for coal is not an effective means for reducing the magnitude of future climate change.

Now, as the journal Nature reports, we finally have some actual air sampling measurements, and they appear to confirm the higher estimates put forward by Cornell professor Robert Howarth:

When US government scientists began sampling the air from a tower north of Denver, Colorado, they expected urban smog — but not strong whiffs of what looked like natural gas. They eventually linked the mysterious pollution to a nearby natural-gas field, and their investigation has now produced the first hard evidence that the cleanest-burning fossil fuel might not be much better than coal when it comes to climate change.

Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. This is more than double the official inventory, but roughly in line with estimates made in 2011 that have been challenged by industry. And because methane is some 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, releases of that magnitude could effectively offset the environmental edge that natural gas is said to enjoy over other fossil fuels.

Methane is 25 times  more efficient than CO2 trapping heat over 100 year — but it is 100 times more efficient than CO2 trapping heat over two decades.


“If we want natural gas to be the cleanest fossil fuel source, methane emissions have to be reduced,” says Gabrielle Pétron, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and first author on the study, currently in press at the Journal of Geophysical Research. Emissions will vary depending on the site, but Pétron sees no reason to think that this particular basin is unique. “I think we seriously need to look at natural-gas operations on the national scale.”

The good folks at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy have a fascinating report out this morning that examines the potential costs — in revenues lost to local governments and school systems — because of the Legislature’s big rush to pass Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s tax break to try to lure a natural gas “cracker” plant to our state.

The bottom line?

Over the course of 25 years the facility will have paid $32.6 million with the tax incentive in place, compared to $335.8 million under a normal assessment. The amount of revenue forgone over 25 years totals $303.9 million, an average of approximately $12.1 million per year.

In an “Issue Brief”, the center’s Sean O’Leary dissects H.B. 4086, with a special emphasis on examining the Legislature’s “fiscal note” about potential costs of the governor’s tax break legislation. Incredibly, the fiscal note projected the costs of the legislation at $0 — that’s right, nothing. But O’Leary explains:

… There are several problems with the reasoning behind the $0 fiscal impact, and it is likely that there will be a significant fiscal impact if a facility is built, and takes advantage of the tax incentive.

He continues:

While legislators debated and ultimately passed H.B. 4086, the fiscal note, which informed them that there would be no fiscal impact, did not include:

— An estimate of the revenue forgone

—  An estimate of the costs of increases in demand for government services

— A model to estimate the economic impact and corresponding increases in revenue

— An explanation for how state revenue increases offset forgone local revenue

The fiscal note also assumes that a cracker facility would not locate in West Virginia without the tax incentive, due to the state’s uncompetitive property taxes. This assumption relies on misconception about the state’s property tax system and ignores many factors more influential to business location decisions.

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In this Jan. 23, 2012 file photo, Gillie Waddington of Enfield, N.Y., raises a fist during rally against hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y. President Barack Obama the f- word during his recent State of the Union speech nor did he mention the technology used to get it, known commonly as fracking. That’s because the word has become a lightning rod.  (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

Well, The Associated Press spent 888 words toying with whether the use of one word — ‘fracking’ was appropriate when the media covers the continuing controversies over natural gas drilling.  The thrust of the story is that industry is upset with the phrase, and blamed environmental activists for the media’s continued use of it:

The word is “fracking” — as in hydraulic fracturing, a technique long used by the oil and gas industry to free oil and gas from rock.

It’s not in the dictionary, the industry hates it, and President Barack Obama didn’t use it in his State of the Union speech — even as he praised federal subsidies for it.

The word sounds nasty, and environmental advocates have been able to use it to generate opposition — and revulsion — to what they say is a nasty process that threatens water supplies.

“It obviously calls to mind other less socially polite terms, and folks have been able to take advantage of that,” said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council who works on drilling issues.

One of the chants at an anti-drilling rally in Albany earlier this month was “No fracking way!”

Industry executives argue that the word is deliberately misspelled by environmental activists and that it has become a slur that should not be used by media outlets that strive for objectivity.

“It’s a co-opted word and a co-opted spelling used to make it look as offensive as people can try to make it look,” said Michael Kehs, vice president for Strategic Affairs at Chesapeake Energy, the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer.

This is the kind of story that New York AP writers love — it will get a lot of play, ending up on front pages all around the country, just as it did here at the Gazette.  But the story reminded me of a discussion a while back here on this blog in which our old buddy Bill Howley, author of The Power Line blog, about whether the right spelling is “fracking” or “fracing” and — more importantly — whether use of the phrase was leading to some fundamental misunderstandings about the potential dangers of the larger natural gas drilling and production process. Take a minute and go back to read the comments section of the previous post, Report ties ‘fracking’ to W.Va. well contamination and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

You see, environmental groups do love the word “fracking.” It makes for great signs and slogans and chants. From a public relations standpoint for them, it’s almost perfect. But the industry’s huge and growing PR machine, despite their protestations in this AP story, well, they like it to — because it’s allowed them to deflect the real issues about potential drinking water contamination into an almost absurd game of word play. Environmental groups have turned “fracking” into short-hand for the entire gas drilling and production process, and in some ways that’s given the industry a big advantage.

The main talking point for industry and its political friends regarding potential drinking water contamination from natural gas drilling and production has become this:

There are no documented cases of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

Friends, family and people effected by well water problems surround Craig Sautner as he speaks outside his home on Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 in  Dimock, Pa.  prior to a water delivery provided by The Enviromental Protection Agency.  Under the authority of the Superfund law the EPA is delivering water to four homes and testing water at 61 homes in the Marcellus Shale gas drilling area in Susquehanna County. (AP Photo/Scranton Times & Tribune, Michael J. Mullen)

Now, maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. Regardless, the turn of phrase — making fracking and hydraulic fracturing the whole focus — has allowed questions about drinking water contamination to be unfairly dismissed by industry, its PR machine, lawmakers and even some regulators.  And there is plenty of evidence that other parts of the process — particularly poorly done well casing jobs — has and can continue to lead to drinking water contamination.  An expert panel appointed by the Obama administration explained it this way:

One of the commonly perceived risks from hydraulic fracturing is the possibility of leakage of fracturing fluid through fractures into drinking water. Regulators and geophysical experts agree that the likelihood of properly injected fracturing fluid reaching drinking water through fractures is remote where there is a large depth separation between drinking water sources and the producing zone. In the great majority of regions where shale gas is being produced, such separation exists and there are few, if any, documented examples of such migration. An improperly executed fracturing fluid injection can, of course, lead to surface spills and leakage into surrounding shallow drinking water formations. Similarly, a well with poorly cemented casing could potentially leak, regardless of whether the well has been hydraulically fractured.

Bill Howley probably explained it better in comments on this blog:

Casing failure is a real and continuing problem for the gas industry. Failed casings and cement jobs have been destroying water wells in West Virginia for over one hundred years, at well pressures far below those used in the 1987 Parsons incident. Sloppy and dangerous cementing caused the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

There is extensive evidence, the Duke study being the latest, of contamination of water wells because of failed casing and cement work on Marcellus wells. This is a proven problem that needs to be dealt with now.

Searching for some holy grail that will prove direct migration of fracing fluids from gas formations to aquifers is a distraction from the real and immediate problem — sloppy and dangerous casing work. This problem has been with the gas industry from the beginning. The Marcellus drilling is different only because the fracing pressures are so much higher and because of the massive amounts of water injected into wells.

Getting caught up in whether “fracking” is the right word just takes time, energy, and newsprint away from focusing on the very real questions about the shale-gas drilling boom, including not only water pollution, but the long-term sustainability of this industry in terms of gas supply and global warming.

During his State of the Union address last night, President Obama made a huge point of promoting natural gas, while also trying to appear concerned about any potential impacts from drilling. Here’s what he said:

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.  And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.  Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.  And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.   Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.   And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock –- reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.

The president didn’t mention the recent downsizing of government estimates of the Marcellus Shale gas play, which we covered the other day here.  But perhaps more importantly, President Obama didn’t mention at all the very vigorous scientific debate over whether natural gas really improved greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal. We’ve covered that issue before here, here, here and here. And it’s worth noting that there’s been another paper published criticizing Cornell scientist Robert Howarth’s work on this issue and a reply by Howarth that vigorously defends his original conclusion:

We believe the preponderance of evidence indicates shale gas has a larger GHG footprint than conventional gas, considered over any time scale. The GHG footprint of shale gas also exceeds that of oil or coal when considered at decadal time scales, no matter how the gas is used. Considered over the century scale, and when used to generate electricity, many studies conclude that shale gas has a smaller GHG footprint than coal, although some of these studies biased their result by using a low estimate for GWP and/or low estimates for methane emission. However, the GHG footprint of shale gas is similar to that of oil or coal at the century time scale, when used for other than electricity generation. We stand by the conclusion: “The large GHG 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.”

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