Look closely at the energy-related news stories of the past dozen or so days, and, between the lines, you’ll see a theme: government makes predictions and assertions that cannot be backed up by data to protect or project preferred messaging.
The unusual collaboration of the University of Texas (UT) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) conducted a first-ever detailed examination—more than 500 wells were analyzed—of individual drilling sites to determine the total amount of escaped methane from shale gas operations. The study was released on September 16 by the National Academy of Sciences. The New York Times story on the study opens with: “Drilling for shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, appears to cause smaller leaks of the greenhouse gas methane than the federal government had estimated.” It reports: “Previous E.P.A. estimates relied on engineering calculations, and other studies gathered data via aircraft flights over drilling sites.”
Why does this matter? Because environmental groups have used previous methane-leak estimates to claim that leaks offset the environmental benefits of the clean-burning natural gas the wells produce. Such claims are used to bolster fracking opposition. A September 17 press release from the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works states: “methane leakage from shale gas development is not releasing nearly as much methane as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had predicted. EPA’s grossly exaggerated estimates have been widely used by critics and far-left environmentalists to discredit the benefits of hydraulic fracturing.”
The exaggerated estimates of methane leaks came from a study released two years ago when two Cornell University scientists, Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea, reported catastrophic levels of methane were being leaked by fracking operations. According to Forbes, “a slew of experts” discredited the research, which just reviewed EPA data and relied on estimates and hypotheticals.