Aerial view of Marcellus Shale drill pad

In his Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, Andrew Revkin discusses a new paper, A commentary on "The greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas in shale formations", by Lawrence M. Cathles (EAS) 

On Shale Gas, Warming and Whiplash

January 11, 2012

Aerial view of Marcellus Shale drill pad

In his Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, Andrew Revkin discusses a new paper, A commentary on "The greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas in shale formations", by Lawrence M. Cathles (EAS), Larry Brown (EAS), Andrew Hunter (CHEME), and Milton Taam. Their paper reviews a March 2011 paper, Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations, by Robert Howarth (EEB) and Anthony Ingraffea (CEE) in the same journal.

Excerpts from the blog entry follow:

January 7, 2011
If you scan back you’ll see what’s becoming a pretty long series of headlines here dealing with a phenomenon I’ve noted since 2008 or so — a feeling of whiplash in tracking the flow of climate science and related news coverage. (One example is “On Plankton, Warming and Whiplash.”)

Here we go again. This time, the issue is the hydraulic fracturing of shale and similar rock to extract natural gas (and oil, as well). This technique, widely known as fracking, has raised environmental concerns while opening a vast new resource that is reshaping energy menus from the United States to China.

Newly published research led by Cornell University scientists challenges the core calculations and conclusions of a paper by another Cornell researcher, Robert Howarth, that became a potent talking point for opponents of hydraulic fracturing last year. Here’s a link to the new paper, which was just published in Climatic Change.

The Howarth paper, “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations,” had estimated that leakage of gas from hydraulic fracturing operations (given that natural gas is mainly methane, a potent heat-trapping substance) and other factors made the climate impact of gas from such wells substantially worse than that of coal, measured per unit of energy…

(read the entire entry, including further comments by Howarth and Cathles

additional information from Cornell is available on the Atkinson Center website)