Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy

Mon, 2013-10-14 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Sun, 2012-12-16 07:00Laurel Whitney
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Medical And Scientific Experts Urge Halting Fracking Rush Until Medical Unknowns Are Better Understood

This week, the group Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) declared they would submit a petition to the White House signed by 107 experts to urge the administration to slow down and consider the health effects of natural gas fracking before allowing any new permits. They want the government to consider the two ethical principles adhered to by physicians: “do no harm” and that of “informed consent.”

The petition stems from the possibility that the Obama administration might “fast-track” the permits for LNG exports. LNG, or liquefied natural gas, comes almost exclusively from the fracking process. The government wants to build export terminals to sell the gas overseas, which would increase demand and production for fracked gas within our borders.

The main concern is with flowback water produced during the fracking process that comes back up to the surface. Companies still won't reveal what's in the chemical fluid mixed with water used to extract the gas citing a potential “loss of competitive advantage.”

Even with known chemicals, doctors and scientists are still studying the ways that public health could be put at risk by exposure. The flowback water from the wells poses a high risk to communities through both water and air contamination.

Thu, 2012-06-21 11:46Carol Linnitt
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Howarth and Ingraffea: Gas Industry Fracking Study So Biased it is 'Almost Useless'

Two of the largest gas industry lobbying bodies in the US, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), released a ‘study’ earlier this month claiming methane emissions from natural gas production to be 50 percent lower than the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 estimates.  However, according to a joint statement prepared by professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea and released by the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) this week, the study is nothing more than industry-purchased propaganda that does not adhere to basic standards for scientific accuracy and consistency.  

The industry report, entitled “Characterizing Pivotal Sources of Methane Emissions from Unconventional Natural Gas Production,” was commissioned by API and ANGA and co-authored by the URS Corporation and The LEVON Group. The report’s findings, pounced upon by gas industry advocates, like the virulent astroturf group Energy In Depth, were based upon API and ANGA survey responses and, according to Howarth, Ingraffea and the PSE, therein lies their downfall.

Here is a brief outline of the study’s ‘fatal flaws’ as outlined in the PSE joint statement:
Tue, 2012-05-01 14:25Carol Linnitt
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EPA Shale Gas Emissions Standards: "Too Little, Too Late"

The gas industry received a blow yesterday when the nonprofit group Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) released a joint statement by Professors Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell University. According to the release the EPA’s new emissions standards for methane and volatile organics from shale gas development “must be considered to little, too late” given the urgent need to reduce global levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

The gas industry is set to remain the single largest methane polluter in the United States, according to the release, with an overall GHG footprint surpassing emissions from coal. 
 
The EPA’s new national emissions standards, finalized in mid-April, rely on new air quality measures, the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Pollutants (NESHAPS), that target pollutants discharged during gas extraction activities. New procedures, such as a methane capture technique known as “green completion,” are expected to play a significant role in achieving the new standards.
 
Howarth and Ingraffea agree these standards are significant and if strongly-enforced could amount to a reduction in methane emissions of about one-third. But despite this achievement, they write, methane emissions remain a serious problem.
“Despite the new regulations, shale gas methane emissions will remain significant, with the estimates of EPA (2011) and Howarth et al. (2011) indicating a likely leakage of 2.5 – 3.9 percent of the amount of methane produced over the lifetime of a shale-gas well, and possibly as high as 6 percent,” the statement reads.
Despite the EPA’s efforts, which have caught positive attention from prominent environmental groups, Howarth and Ingraffea remain very matter-of-fact about the real issue, which hinges on a nation-wide spread of poor practice. Gas production is plagued with ‘ongoing emission’ problems and the EPA’s emissions standards – while a step in the right direction – just aren’t enough to make the concerns associated with poor practice go away.
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