Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Fri, 2011-12-02 13:34Steve Horn
Steve Horn's picture

Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the “Cornell Study.”

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional (“natural”) gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate.”

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred “mom and pop” image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, “Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?“ 

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained “always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel.”

“With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing,” Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Myth One: “Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology”

Dr. Ingraffea writes:

Yes, fracking is 60 years old. But using this shorthand obscures the truth that what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It's the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads.

Myth Two: “Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare”

Ingraffea dismantles this one:

Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration…Most recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming…

Myth Three: “The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts”


Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades.

Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.

Myth Four: “Natural gas is a 'clean' fossil fuel”

This one would be laughable if so many people did not believe it. As the old adage goes, “A lie can travel halfway 'round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Ingraffea on this whopper:

NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century.

He proceeds to explain that methane gas is prone to leakage, which is not taken into account when proponents tout gas as a “clean” source of energy:

Leaks happen routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities.

The rate of leakage is anywhere from 3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of the lifetime of production of a shale gas well, which means from three to 200 per cent greater leakage rate than from conventional gas wells.

Exposing Other Mythology, Making a Plea For Truth 

Dr. Ingraffea also discusses other myths the gas industry relies upon on a daily basis, including “jobs created,” “gas for energy independence,” gas as a “bridge fuel” toward renewable energy, among others. All of these lies and misdirections have been debunked on multiple occasions, by numerous sources.

Concluding where he began his article, Ingraffea makes a plea to his readers: “keep asking questions, dig for the truth, and you’ll get the whole story.”


Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional (“natural”) gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal.

And another myth bites the dust

During a Nov. 29 roundtable discussion with industry experts hosted by the American Clean Skies Foundation, Cornell’s Lawrence Cathles III outlined the findings of a soon-to-be published study asserting that shale gas has a greenhouse gas footprint half or perhaps a third that of coal.

The Cathles study identified three errors in the widely cited study by Cornell’s Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea. Cathles and other researchers said Howarth’s findings were “seriously flawed” because of erroneous methane leakage data, a too-short methane global warming potential and because it compared coal and gas in terms of heat rather than electricity generation.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Paulina Jaramillo with similar research that debunked the earlier study, echoed much of Cathles’ assertions and elaborated on others. Jaramillo joined Cathles earlier in the day to brief lawmakers in the Natural Gas Caucus about their findings.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary undertanding of the issue could have identified the gaping holes in Ingraffea and Howarth’s work. Your continued attempt to cling to it when all evidence discredits it is nothing more than an example of confirmation bias.

And are moving ahead with some sort of quasi agenda.

Ingraffea does not tout his 20 year global warming cycle.  The gist of his work is the 100 year cycle, and he uses numbers your scientists state are reasonable.  Its obvious you can’t follow what you’re talking about, and you seem to be grasping for answers from such authorities as the Star Gazette.

Seriously, you claim to know this science.  You didn’t even read the papers did you? 

Are you part of the smeer campaign against Ingraffea?

Seriously, what kind of idiot does that? (At this point its a fair question directed at you.)

Here’s the stuff you waffled around on;

Here’s Ingraffea’s paper;

Here’s the paper you offered with shows significantly higher life time losses to shale gas wells than your ‘industry expert’ rebuttal;

Here’s your rebuttal wherin the authors state that Ingraffea’s numbers are reasonable;

You got nothing and you know it.  You can’t prove anything and you know it.  Is this why you use a reporter from the Star Gazette to push your point?

Had Ingraffea and Horwath not grossly overestimated the leakage rates from natural gas production/transmission/distribution, based on a most specious interpretation of the available data, they would have not been able to support their claim that it has a larger GHG footprint than other fossil fules. The only “reasonable” numbers Ingraffea and Horwath used were the increased potential of CH4 to act as a GHG, not in the loss rates from gas drilling.

This is really simple stuff and Ingraffea and Horwath have now been debunked by yet another peer reviewed study.

End of story.

Here’s the exact words from your ‘debunk’.

“While their low-end estimate of total leakages from well drilling through delivery(3.6%) is consistent with the EPA (2011) methane leakage rate of ~2.2% of production, and consistent with previous estimates in peer reviewed studies…”

They are saying Ingraffea has it right.

You just can’t admit that you don’t understand what you are talking about.  The fact that you claim to have peer reviewed papers and yet you can’t comment on the papers in question (ie read them) suggests to me that you lied about the extent of your knowledge on, well, any of this.  Why can’t you read the papers?  Don’t you understand what you are reading?  Are you scientifically illiterate?

So far you cannot find a single shred of evidence to support your claims.

But I’m sure you can go find another blogger or newspaper reporter to agree with your beliefs.

That’s an interesting way to read the material .. dishonest, evasive and disingenuous, but interesting none the less. Lets see what you left out, shall we?

While their low-end estimate of total leakages from well drilling through delivery(3.6%) is consistent with the EPA (2011) methane leakage rate of ~2.2% of production, and consistent with previous estimates in peer reviewed studies… their high end estimate of 7.9% is unreasonably large and misleading.

Without Ingraffea/Howarth’s “unreasonably large and misleading” high end estimate, their entire argument that shale gas production has a higher GHG footprint than coal  falls apart … plain and simple. There is no honest reading of the comments that lets one get away with saying that the commenters were in agreement with either the methodology or the assumptions made in the Ingraffea/Howarth paper.

High leakage rates, a short methane GWP, and comparison in terms of heat content are the inappropriate bases upon which Howarth et al. ground their claim that gas could be twice as bad as coal in its greenhouse impact. Using more reasonable leakagerates and bases of comparison, shale gas has a GHG footprint that is half and perhaps a third that of coal.

The largest leakage rate they cite (for the Haynesville Shale) assumes, in addition, that flow tests and initial production rates provide a measure of the rate of gas release during well completion, drill out and flow back. In other words they assume that initial production statistics can be extrapolated back to the gas venting rates during the earlier periods of well completion and drill out. This is incompatible with the physics of shale gas production, the safety of drilling operations, and the fate of the gas that is actually indicated in their references.

The references they cite document that the methane loss rate during completion of unconventional gas wells by modern techniques is, or could be, at least 10 times lower than the 1.9% they use for both their high end and low end estimates.

So what we have now are two peer reviewed studies (and another soon to be released) that state that shale gas has a much lower GHG footprint than coal and one highly flawed study that states the opposite … doesn’t look to good for the Ingraffea/Howarth fanboys.



Ingriffea talks about outlying numbers.  Any scientist worth his salt would.

But his paper does not use those for its conclusions.  It uses the lower conservative number 3.6% not the larger one 7.9% that you are lieing about and falsely claiming Ingriffea did.

Compared tocoal, 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.

He figures that if you use the lower range of methane output CO2 emissions are 20% higher than coal.

He’s arguing that the larger number is based on uncertainties in the data, but he does not rest his case on those numbers.  He uses his more conservative 3.6% that your own sources agree with.  He also talks about the 20 year horizon but it’s not the thrust of his paper.

Furthermore, the papers you posted agree with him.  Read them;

“The life cycle emissions are dominated by combustion that accounts for 74% of the total emissions.

In terms you need to understand.  The industry paper you pulled states that the life cycle emissions for a natural gas well is 26%.

Who’s butt did you pull 1.9 % out of?  What paper on earth are you talking about?  Where are you getting your garbage facts?  Junk Science?  The National Enquirer?

In short you are debunking your own invented hype.  It should be easy since you are wrong.

Mike H, you are distorting the Howarth/Ingraffea paper much the same way as others have attempted to smear it - the subject of Steve's post. An Oil Man has clearly demonsrated how you are wrong, with links and supporting quotes.  Where are your links and quotes? And don't keep harping the industry-funded studies, ok?  Talk about confirmation bias?

By the way, where do you work? I'm curious how you have advanced knowledge of unpublished studies on this subject. Please tell us more, and explain how you know about this.

On a related note, in our previous conversation, you made the statement “I dont know why the industry wont release its data, its most likely proprietary … you would have to ask them directly.”

First of all, I don't quite follow your logic that data on methane pollution is in any way a proprietary interest. How is pollution data proprietary, exactly?  

And since I suspect that you are involved in this industry in some way, I am asking you directly.


On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog, the inspector general released a scathing report on the agency's failure to control leaks from the nation's natural gas distribution system.

The report, titled “Improvements Needed in EPA Efforts to Address Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines,” describes a string of failures by the EPA to control leaks of one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane, from the rapidly...

read more