Lights Out: Sierra Club-Funded Study Finally Puts Discredited Cornell Paper to Bed

Lead CMU researcher: “We don’t think they’re using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased”


May 2011, U.S. Dept. of Energy report: Emissions from natural gas are low compared to other fuels.

  • “Howarth [and Ingraffea] found a large fraction of produced gas from unconventional wells never made it to end users, assumed that all of that gas was vented as methane, and thus concluded that the global warming impacts were huge. As the [Dept. of Energy] work explains, though, 62% of that gas isn’t lost at all – it’s ‘used to power equipment.'” (CFR blog, May 20, 2011)

June 2011, Cornell Univ. professor Lawrence M. Cathles [report submitted for publication]

  • “[Ingraffea’s and Howarth’s] analysis is seriously flawed in that they significantly overestimate the fugitive emissions associated with unconventional gas extraction…”
  • “[T]he assumptions used by Howarth et al. are inappropriate and…their data, which the authors themselves characterize as ‘limited’, do not support their conclusions.”

John Hanger, former head of the Pennsylvania Dept of Env. Protection:

  • “Professor Horwath’s conclusion that gas emits more heat trapping gas than carbon flies in the face of numerous life cycle studies done around the world.” (April 12, 2011)
  • “Professor Horwath just adopted an extreme and false assumption of no flaring that conveniently moved the result of his life cycle analysis in the direction that he wanted.” (April 12, 2011)
  • “Bit by bit the Howarth study is being consigned to the junk heap.” (Aug. 25, 2011)

August 2011, Carnegie Mellon Univ. report on life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Marcellus shale production.

  • “The GHG emission estimates shown here for Marcellus gas are similar to current domestic gas.”
  • “For comparison purposes, Marcellus shale gas adds only 3% more emissions to the average conventional gas, which is likely within the uncertainty bounds of the study. Marcellus shale gas has lower GHG emissions relative to coal when used to generate electricity.”
  • Lead researcher Paula Jaramillo (an ‘energy expert,’ according to ProPublica): “We don’t think they’re using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased. And the comparison they make at the end, my biggest problem, is wrong.” (as quoted by POLITICO, Aug. 24, 2011)

Dueling research converges on gas

By Talia Buford
POLITICO (subs. req’d)
August 24, 2011

“Carnegie Mellon assistant researcher Paulina Jaramillo said, the Cornell paper assumed that all pre-produced natural gas is vented, not flared, and if the fugitive emissions were at the rate the Cornell study suggests, natural gas companies would be losing the majority of their product.” …

“We don’t think they’re using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased,” [Jaramillo] said. “And the comparison they make at the end, my biggest problem, is wrong.” …

Russell Jones, senior economic adviser for American Petroleum Institute, called the Carnegie Mellon study “another solid report consistent with the other reliable reports out there.” He said the study gave a more complete picture of the full life cycle associated with natural gas, and used authoritative data from the Environmental Protection Agency and other sources. …

Ingraffea apparently the last to know: “You can get any answer you want based on modeling and assumptions,” said Anthony Ingraffea, one of the researchers for the Cornell study. “You have to decide who’s righter. Not right. But who’s righter.”

More from Ingraffea/Howarth on their own paper:

  • Howarth: “They are limited data. These are not published data. These are things teased apart out of PowerPoint presentations here and there. So rather than try to extrapolate based on any complicated formula, we’ve ended up simply taking the mean of those values.” (Howath presentation to colleagues, 22:30, March 15, 2011)
  • Howarth: “A lot of the data we used are really low quality, but I’m confident that they are the best available data.” (38:50)
  • Howarth: “Let me just as an aside say that, again, the quality of the data behind that number [methane emissions during well completion] are pretty lousy. You know, they’re these weird PowerPoint sort of things.” (44:15)
  • Ingraffea: “We are basing this study on in some cases questionable data.”  (38:20)
  • Ingraffea: “I hope you don’t gather from this presentation that we think we’re right.” (57:15)
  • Howarth: “We did not look as carefully at coal. … We didn’t put anywhere near the amount of effort into them [coal numbers], but I’m sure they are lower than natural gas.” (39:10 – 40:08)



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