Shale gas 'worse' than coal for climate?

Cornell University Prof. Robert Howarth claims in a new study that,

“Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon.”

A respectable but counting-the-number-of-angels-that-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin takedown of Howarth’s study may be found at

But if you just want’s cut-to-the-chase takedown, here it is:

Manmade emissions of CO2 from burning coal are not known to have had a discernible impact on climate. So even assuming that Howarth’s worst case scenario concerning shale gas was true, two times a non-discernible impact is still a non-discernible impact.


3 thoughts on “Shale gas 'worse' than coal for climate?”

  1. People may want to check the references for this paper before promoting it any further – it looks like some of their key data is bogus.

    The only area where this paper differentiates between shale wells and “conventional gas wells” is in their estimate of methane emissions during fracing and flow-back. They cite five figures for that, and these are to my mind the heart of the paper. Of these, two just reference the “EPA”, so can’t be checked. Two more refer to short PowerPoints done by Anadarko employees, one of whom has already emailed me to say that the data used was incorrect. The most important figure, however, the one with by far the largest claimed emissions, is for methane emissions from the Haynesville Shale, where the “reference” appears to be just a scout report listing nothing but assorted initial production figures for wells completed in early 2009. It’s not relevant to the number they’re using, which thus appears to be unsupported.

    There’s no direct correlation between reported production and any volumes of gas that may have been produced during a short “flow-back” period. But more importantly, there is absolutely no correlation between the initial production figures cited in the scout report the paper refers to, and what an operator does with their gas. So you can’t use initial production figures to estimate methane emissions, since those depend entirely on an operator’s actions, not the well’s productivity. Given the value of the gas involved, it’s not surprising that its almost always sold commercially, not vented or flared. Hence actual methane emissions are no higher for shale wells than for conventional gas wells.

    Consequently this paper is essentially pointless, if not downright fraudulent. They have no stated source for their data on the paper’s key point. Check the reference and you’ll see – it’s available online at Good luck finding methane emissions data for Haynesville shale gas wells given – there’s nothing there.

  2. Have already pumped billions of tons into the atmosphere and it doesn’t seem to have made much, if any, difference. We know that the next “billions of tons” will have less impact than the prior “billions of tons.” There’s been no warming over the past 15 years despite CO2 levels increasing from about 360 ppm to about 390 ppm. We’ve been warming for about 200 years and records only started about 120 years ago. As we’re in a general warming trend, of course recent decades are likely to be warmer than the prior ones. Moreover, any slight warming hardly merits the superlative “hottest.” Glad you read Green Hell — what’s wrong with using natural resources? We call that surviving and thriving — not pillaging.

  3. Pumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and then waiting to see what happens is not a chance I want to take. Why is it that the global warming deniers never mention the last ten years were the hottest years on record? I just finished reading GREEN HELL. The message of the book is Americans have a birthright to to pillage the earth. Sure.

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