Appalachian Basin

NPR Swings and Misses in Recent Article on New York’s Increased Shale Gas Usage

As Energy In Depth reported last week, New Yorkers are saving millions and experiencing improved health thanks to the state’s increased reliance on natural gas. A New York-based National Public Radio affiliate acknowledged the latter fact this week, reporting that since the state’s fracking ban was announced two years ago, “New Yorkers are using more natural gas than ever.” But the station somehow managed to manufacture a negative narrative out of this development — complete with input from thoroughly debunked anti-fracking activist professors Tony Ingraffea and Bob Howarth.

According to the WXXI-News report, more than 500,000 new businesses and residential consumers have made the conversion to natural gas in New York, resulting in an 18 percent increase in the state’s usage since 2014. In the response to this, the Howarth and Ingraffea told NPR:

“New Yorkers need to wake up,” Howarth said. “We’ve banned fracking, but we’re importing shale gas, and we need to take responsibility for that.”

The solution? According to Ingraffea,

“New York has ample resources to do a complete transition to renewable energy in our lifetimes,” he said. “And it just takes a little bit more political will.”

Fortunately, WXII did offer some much-needed context and realism in response to this. Jon Sorenson, spokesman for the Public Service Commission — which developed New York’s plan to be 50 percent renewable by 2030—told WXXI that even a 50 percent renewable conversion would be “ambitious,” and added:

“As much as we would like to, we cannot snap our fingers and build the infrastructure nor find the billions of dollars needed to become 100 percent renewable overnight.”

Undeterred Ingraffea and Howarth went continue to push this tired claim:

“Now we have undoubtedly in the literature proof that methane is not a good bridge fuel,” Ingraffea said. “It’s not good for anything.”

The “proof” Ingraffea is referring to is the pair’s debunked 2011 study that claimed methane leaks from shale development far outweigh natural gas’ climate benefits (climate benefits environmentalists had touted for years before suddenly reversing course). EID developed a fact sheet when the pair released an updated version of the study in 2013 that included critical quotes from scientists across the country. Here are just a few:

  • “We don’t think they’re [Howarth et. al.] 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.” — Paula Jaramillo,* Carnegie Mellon Univ., Aug. 2011 * Research was funded in part by the Sierra Club.
  • “Howarth, et. al (2011b) it is assumed that all potential fugitive [methane] emissions are vented. This is an unreasonable assumption…” — Francis O’Sullivan and Sergey Paltsev* Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nov. 2012 * Paltsev is a Lead Author of the Fifth Assessment Report for the IPCC.
  • “Here we reiterate and substantiate our charges that none of [Howarth’s] conclusions are warranted.” — Lawrence Cathles, Cornell University, Feb. 2012
  • “Average natural gas baseload power generation has life cycle GHG emissions 53% lower than average coal baseload power generation.” National Energy Technology Laboratory, Oct. 2011

In fact, since the duo’s reports were released, several methane studies have actually shown leakage rates well below the threshold (2.7 percent) for natural gas to maintain its climate benefits.


At the same time, increased use of natural gas has given the U.S. the distinction of being the only major nation to significantly reduce carbon emissions since 2005.

New Yorkers also enjoyed the cleanest air in 50 years in 2013 thanks to conversions to natural gas that former Mayer Michael Bloomberg called “the single biggest step to save lives since we began our comprehensive smoking control program.”

Perhaps even more evident than the latter development is the fact that natural gas is saving New Yorker’s money. Thanks to increased natural gas brought into the city via Spectra Energy’s Trans-Hudson pipeline, New York City residents saved $500 million between November 2013 and October 2016.

Folks like Ingraffea and Howarth will likely continue to ignore these benefits. In the meantime, reliable, affordable, abundant natural gas coming out of the Marcellus Shale will continue to prove to New Yorkers just how valuable it is — something most residents are surely thankful for as temperatures are set to drop this weekend.

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