Fracking is Dirtier Than Coal Mining, Claims Study That T. Boone Should Probably Read

Categories: The Environment

Thomas_Boone_Pickens.jpg
T. Boone Pickens: Fracking's best friend.
The Pickens Plan -- Dallas oilman T. Boone Pickens's plan to equip every American with his very own riding natural-gas fracker -- is enjoying a wave of consensus not seen since The Simple Life got canceled.

Pickens's latest pitch for an OPEC-free America would give large tax breaks to manufacturers who build natural gas-powered vehicles. It has bipartisan support in congress and is pre-authorized by the president, and recently earned a friendly pat on the ass from the New York Times, where Pickens's personal friend, former Texas Monthly senior editor Joe Nocera, lobbied for the bill on its op-ed page.

So: Drill, baby, drill, right? Especially in Texas, where, as Schutze pointed out recently, we've been secretly letting the fracking industry skate on its taxes. Soon, Pickens's vision goes, our cars will run cleaner, our icecaps will be sturdier, and Middle East rebels will be standing gunless in the street, wondering where all the jets went.

If only those pesky scientists would just go with the gas flow.

A controversial new study, authored by a Cornell ecologist and published in the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change Letters -- the best peer-reviewed climate journal out there, if you ask me -- argues that drilling for natural gas is actually worse for the climate than coal. And he gathered the bulk of his evidence in Texas.

You can read the study yourself, which I heartily endorse, assuming you suffer from severe sleep deprivation. But the gist is this: When drillers go fracking -- using water pressure to break up shale rock formations in search of natural gas -- as much as 8 percent of the methane they're trying to trap sneaks into the atmosphere, like one of those really elusive crackheads on Cops. And that amount of methane, over time, has a much bigger impact on our climate than carbon dioxide.

The study is the work of Robert Howarth, who appears to be some sort of professional pain in the ass to the fracking industry -- a worthy profession, to be sure. (Schutze is the secretary of Local 564, part of the Frack Disturber Union.) Critics jumped on the study early and often, questioning Howarth's data and disputing his conclusion that any methane that isn't trapped can be assumed to be floating around the atmosphere. I guess they think some of it goes to the movies or something.

The study is being passed among eco-nerds like a biodegradable plastic bong. It won't stop the Pickens Plan, but it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens when it and more studies like it find their way into the hands of more media and more lawmakers.

Those guys do read scientific journals, don't they?


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28 comments
JimS
JimS

Nocera has a really weak, thin-skinned come-back on the Times op ed page today...http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04...asserting, I guess, that concerns about fracking are elite and Northeastern while we here in Texas have never had a problem with it. He dismisses Howarth's study because he says Howarth has been seen wearing an anti-fracking lapel pin. His piece reads like a sloppy re-write of an industry hand-outs. Does the Times think Nocera is a replacement for Frank Rich?

Senecajean
Senecajean

Do these people read scientific journals you ask? I doubt it. And this goes for most of Congress, too.Too many big, technical words and those strings of numbers with those funny markings around them. Too much pesky science in them.

J Michael Daniel Jr
J Michael Daniel Jr

I'm trying to take a side. Everytime I lean towards the anti-fracking argument I have a royalty check to deposit. If dear baby santa jesus would have left a suicide note on the cross this... the whole issue would be much clearer to me.

locoDbag
locoDbag

They should just tap into me after I finish eating at El Fenix! Now there's some fertile ground waiting to be explored.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Oak Cliff Earth Day this Sunday at Lake Cliff Park on Colorado Blvd, we will be featuring a map that has been pieced together from the Texas Railroad Commission web site. If you go and use their viewer, you only get a 5x5inch view of one area. So we have been printing and taping for two days piecing together one huge map that is going to blow your socks off. INCLUDING the gas transmission lines that no one has thought about. Remember the problems with those? Coming to Dallas soon.

Matilda of Tuscany
Matilda of Tuscany

grandma was tough, modern Americans have no spine. Plus, it's 8 degrees hotter and we killed all the good shade trees and stopped building sleeping porches.

SteveT
SteveT

Earth to Americans: It takes energy to get energy; and there are other costs as well (environmental degradation, anyone?), particularly with fossil fuels. It won't matter how much of them is "in the ground", once the costs outweigh the benefits, we will abandon them. At its most basic, its EROEI (energy returned on energy invested). The closer that ratio gets to 1 to 1, the less sense it makes to explore for, extract, transport, refine, and use a particular source material. When the US first began finding and using oil, the EROEI was about 100 to 1; now its about 10 to 1. The Canadian tar sands are 3 to 1.

Edgar
Edgar

If we stipulate that gas drilling pollutes the air more than coal mining, should that be either surprising or important? Coal mining involves removing mineral substances from beneath the earth in such a way that more of the associated gases can remain in place. In gas production, gas itself is being produced and brought to the surface, where some of it can escape. Perhaps regulation can minimize the quantity of gas that is not contained at the wellbore.

But aside from that inherent distinction, isn't the more important question which energy source burns more cleanly? If I'm not mistaken, the carbon footprint of the production and extraction process is trivial compared to that of the burning of the fuels (the point at which electricity or heat is generated).

Gus mitchem
Gus mitchem

Farmers and ranchers have run CNG and propane for decades, not to mention it's so clean most forklifts run it indoors in warehouses.

Gus mitchem
Gus mitchem

Farmers and ranchers have run CNG and propane for decades, not to mention it's so clean most forklifts run it indoors in warehouses.

Matilda of Tuscany
Matilda of Tuscany

No, media moguls and lawmakers only read dollars--in the form of advertising or campaign funds. Us eco-nerds are simply trying to protect a future where anybody can enjoy biodegradable plastic bongs without them exploding when it torches the nearest methane release, assuming anything would grow after the gas industry keeps increasing air pollution/atmospheric change.

TimCov
TimCov

Aside from the pollution aspects of producing natural gas, natural gas vehicles suck. Their range is incredibly short (unless you have space on the vehicle for a large number of tanks. And, you need extremely high pressure to fill the tanks, or it takes forever (ask anyone who has CNG vehicle and one of the filling setups in their garage).

If CNG vehicles were a truly viable solution, we would see them selling in places other than California. So far, the best alternatives for powered personal transportation are hybrids and electrics. This is the reason you see them for sell everywhere.

anon
anon

WOW, Joe! What have you been eating lately? A food writer AND a tree-hugger?? It's an Observer twofer!

Edgar
Edgar

Maybe, but it's a long effin' bridge.

yeahIsaidthat
yeahIsaidthat

ahhhhhh, sleeping porches. My grandma had one of those. Very nice.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

If you want to include the spills and leaks and emissions that come from each pad site, compressor station, frack ponds,etc then the so called footprint can be much larger than one thinks.

GD
GD

The only CNG forklifts I've seen run inside were inside well ventilated warehouses. They do put out fumes and are not so clean as you think. Maybe better than gasoline, but it still isn't fume-free emissions.

jfpo
jfpo

Wow, right from the Marcellus Shale Coalition itself, a gas industry lobbying group. This can hardly be considered a valid counterpoint.

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

I don't think I would qualify as a tree hugger, if only because I have really short arms. But I am fond of science.

pak152
pak152

glad to know you accept the Cornell study with wholeheartedly as if it were the gospel truth, I guess you believe in anthropogenic climate change, the solvency of social security and that raising taxes will solve the national debt.

Edgar
Edgar

If that's the case, then papers from scientists who show up at anti-drilling rallies should be disqualified too.

If we automatically mistrust anything uncovered by virtue of motivation, then truth can only be stumbled upon. Quit being so lazy and look at the counterpoint on its merits.

Jimmy
Jimmy

And the original study from the "Climate Change Letters" gets your stamp of independence?????

Jeanne Fudala
Jeanne Fudala

Me, too. I'm also fond of breathing, which trres are a great help with. Also fond of drinking (water)

jfpo
jfpo

Yes, platitudes over science. That's the way to walk through life.

GD
GD

"If we automatically mistrust anything uncovered by virtue of motivation, then truth can only be stumbled upon."

I have to say, that in reading the comments here for the past few years, this phrase is, hands down, one of the most quotable I have ever read! Thanks!

jfpo
jfpo

Thankfully we have gas industry lobbyists to save us from "Big Ecology."

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