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Shale gas: Boon for humanity or bane?

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted January 23, 2012

The carbon footprint of shale gas is about one-third as high as if coal was burned to produce electricity, says a team of researchers who were obviously offended by the rush-to-block-any-new-fuel "study" of Cornell University's Robert Howarth. Howarth's recent widely circulated, paper in Climatic Change claims shale gas is perhaps twice as bad for the environment as burning coal.  

Dr. Lawrence Cathless III, also of Cornell, sees shale gas as a bonanza for the whole world. He and his team reject the Howarth contention that huge amounts of shale gas will leak during well completion and gas delivery.

"For a high volume shale gas well, the leakage rates [Howarth and his co-authors] assert are routine would indicate about a million dollars of methane is routinely vented to the atmosphere from each high volume well," Cathless says. This is an economic loss no business would tolerate, and a safety risk no company -- or its rig workers -- would endure.

The methane escapes Howarth et al. expect over a 10-day pre-production period "would fill a square mile with an explosive mixture of 5 percent methane -- to a height of 176 feet from a single well," says Cathless' Cornell-vs.-Cornell riposte. Nor has the Howarth team documented any instances of such substantial methane releases.

It's a familiar pattern by now, of course. The true believers in man-made warming cannot allow any cost-effective new energy source to shove aside the ultra-costly renewables, even if no renewable really works well. Teams of believing academics obviously stand ready to perjure their professional reputations to give the New York Times a disparaging quote in opposition to whatever new energy comes along. This media strategy relieves them of having to assess whether or not there is truth in the statement. Meanwhile:

  • CBS says 11 more solar energy firms are poised to go bankrupt like Solyndra, taking with them another $6.5 billion in public money from the Department of Energy.
  • A cellulosic ethanol firm, Range Fuels, backed by more than $150 million in public funds, has just declared bankruptcy after failing to produce a single gallon of cellulosic ethanol (from non-food biomass).
  • All over the country, power companies are being forced to raise their rates to cover the mandated costs of wind turbines that erratically produce a tiny fraction of their rated electrical capacity -- and we are being forced to pay the bill.
  • President Obama, after trying to evade a decision on the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada until after the 2012 election, was forced to decide by Congressional mandate and came down against the thousands of new jobs it would create and the cost-effective oil it would have delivered.

None of the green failures are as dangerous to the Green Agenda, however, as those massive shale gas deposits being found around the world. That's why the opponents claim fracking will pollute our drinking water, even though our wells are a few hundred feed deep and the fracking is down a mile or two. And, that is why the Howarth "study" is garnering so much publicity from the media.

Tell it to the folks from Pennsylvania and Poland who are drilling energetically while creating both jobs and human comfort. They seem to not much care what the greens think. Perhaps the rest of us should follow their example. ESR

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to cgfi@hughes.net or visit us at www.cgfi.org





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