Appalachian Basin

Science and Ingraffea’s Natural Gas Emission Study

Tony Ingraffea considers himself a pioneer of hydraulic fracturing technology. When he tried to take that expertise and switch gears to air emissions, the resulting study left something to be desired–to say the least–amongst his peers in the scientific community. Interestingly, Ingraffea doesn’t seem to notice the subsequent studies from his peers disagreeing with his predictions.

EID Marcellus recently attended a debate between Dr. Terry Engleder of Penn State and Dr. Tony Ingraffea of Cornell. Engleder’s contribution to the natural gas discussion involves his pretty accurate predictions of the reserves using his professional expertise as a geologist. Ingraffea’s expertise is in civil and environmental engineering, specifically focused on the fracturing of rocks, including shale formations.

But that’s not what he’s most known for in the world of natural gas.

Ingraffea and another Cornell professor, Bob Howarth, issued a study on natural gas emissions in 2011 that got them quite a bit of attention. The anti natural gas crowd touted the study as “proof” natural gas development is not the clean burning fuel it is said to be. At the same time, though, the scientific community across the country including at other well-respected universities scratched their heads and decided to look further into it, resulting in additional studies from several institutions disputing the findings.

These additional studies were released within weeks of the original, leaving Ingraffea and Howarth with a choice. The two could acknowledge they had gotten some pretty basic points wrong, as peer reviews showed, or they could continue to parade the study around ignoring these reviews and studies, calling out anyone who cited the later studies as shilling for the natural gas industry. It’s been almost two years since the release of the original and at this point, most of you know which option they chose.

“[We] have not received any of what we would consider intense peer criticism.”(Anthony Ingraffea, Sept. 21, 2011)

“[E]very paper that’s appeared in the last couple of months seems to support what we predicted.” (Ingraffea, March 2012)

Energy In Depth recently compiled some quotes from the other institutions into a fact sheet which can be accessed here in a printable pdf format.  Take a look for yourself below.

“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

IHS-CERA“Vented emissions of the magnitudes estimated by Howarth would be extremely dangerous and subject to ignition. The simple fact that fires are rare in all gas-producing areas suggests that this analysis grossly overestimates the quantities of methane that are leaking uncontrolled into the atmosphere at the well site.” IHS-CERA, Aug. 2011

“The Howarth estimates assume that daily methane emissions throughout the flowback period actually exceed the wells’ IP at completion. This is a fundamental error, since the gas stream builds up slowly during flowback. Compounding this error is the assumption that all flowback methane is vented, when industry practice is to capture and market as much as possible, flaring much of the rest. Vented emissions of the magnitudes estimated by Howarth would be extremely dangerous and subject to ignition.” IHS CERA, Aug. 2011


worldwatch-institute“[T]he life-cycle GHG footprint of gas is lower than coal under all GWPs [Global Warming Potentials] tested.” Worldwatch Institute, Aug. 2011


“Alas, [the Cornell] analysis is based on extremely weak data, and also has a severe methodological flaw (plus some other questionable decisions), all of which means that his bottom line conclusions shouldn’t carry weight.” Michael Levi, Council on Foreign Relations, Nov. 2010


“Professor Howarth’s conclusion that gas emits more heat trapping gas than carbon flies in the face of numerous lifecycle studies done around the world.” John Hanger, Fmr. PA DEP Secretary, Apr. 2011


 “One thing that disturbed me and some of the scientists I consulted was the big gap in the definitiveness of [Cornell’s] abstract summary and the actual paper. … I find that they are more value judgments than scientific judgments.” Andrew Revkin, New York Times , Dot Earth, Apr. 2011


“This paper is selective in its use of some very questionable data and too readily ignores or dismisses available data that would change its conclusions.” Dave McCabe, Clean Air Task Force, Apr. 2011

I have to wonder what Ingraffea considers “intense peer review” and what papers of support for his predictions he was reading when he made those statements.


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