During a congressional briefing this week Dr. Anthony Ingraffea offered his opinions on onshore natural gas development to an audience composed largely of congressional interns and environmental activists. Cornell staff made clear Ingraffea’s remarks were his own when they mentioned they weren’t reflective of the University. At the time I thought it was a standard disclaimer, but it turns out there was good reason for its use as Ingraffea quickly launched into a tirade.
It was one hell of a show, complete with references to the peril of our Nation’s children and grandchildren. In fact, as I was watching I couldn’t help but think the professor’s remarks seemed more fitting for a natural gas activist than a tenured professor at one of the nation’s premiere Ivy League institutions.
The discussion, from an objective standpoint, went haywire shortly after the professor relayed the title of his PowerPoint presentation, “Unconventional Development of Shale Gas: Do we really know what we are doing?”
Turning a blind eye towards science, documented history, the findings of multiple academic studies, EPA inquiries, and the comments of over a dozen state regulators and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Ingraffea declared:
“[out of] hundreds of thousands of wells you will have many, hundreds if not thousands of cases of water contamination, anywhere shale gas development occurs.”
Wow, so much for that University of Texas study that said otherwise. A study from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania also found no impact on drinking water from Marcellus development in Pennsylvania where over 6,000 wells have been sunk in recent years. There’s also a review from the EPA which declared the same.
Luckily, an astute member of the audience rose to question this assertion following the professor’s remarks. The young Washingtonian inquired, “You claim a high rate of failure of wells at outset, increasing failure rate over time. Given the amount of wells developed already, is there documentation of what you are suggesting, specifically on documenting contamination?”
You don’t get questions like that every day and it appeared Dr. Ingraffea wasn’t prepared for it. In response Ingraffea offered the following:
“The fact that a well is leaking is not proof it will cause contamination of drinking water. Do we have data supporting this alleged contamination? I have seen many supporting letters where this has occurred but don’t have any of that here. I allege hundreds of families in PA have received such letters.”
I’m not a scientist but that answer doesn’t sound very scientific.
Ingraffea then went on a hyperbolic rant about climate change and natural gas production’s potential contribution to said phenomenon.
“[Natural gas] Lifecycle consists of upstream, midstream and downstream. These papers show at a minimum something on the order of 3-5% of all gas produced by shale will find its way to the atmosphere before the resource is burned. No one is measuring it.”
Well, that’s not entirely true. The American Petroleum Institute (API) and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) just released a study taking into account data from over 91,000 natural gas wells. They found emissions rates much lower than those referenced by Ingraffea in his presentation and his heavily criticized emissions study. Regardless, recently passed EPA regulations will require all hydraulically fractured wells to implement methane gathering systems that capture all methane during well development. This is already being voluntary implemented by many natural gas producers.
The reason Ingraffea mentioned methane was so he could launch into a tirade on global climate change. Complete with a chart representing scientific modeling in regards to warming potential, Ingraffea launched into a sky is falling attack more worthy of a Greenpeace activist than an Ivy League faculty member.
“Ignore this chart at your peril to the detriment of our children and grandchildren. Science says the world will be in peril by 2040. Best thing we can do is quickly enact policies that will decrease the use and burning of fossil fuels.”
Yes, that’s right. The only way to save our children and grandchildren from imminent death is to immediately shut down all natural gas production in the United States. Surely doing so will correct all the ills, real and perceived, affecting our atmosphere. It’s an interesting hypothesis, but not a very scientific one. By that logic, we may as well shut down our landfills and quit digesting food. According to EPA, they are major sources of methane whose combined emissions surpass natural gas.
In his talk, Ingraffea missed one significant detail. Increased use of natural gas in power systems has enabled the U.S. to lead the world in carbon reduction since 2006. In fact, its use is enabling us to meet reduction goals that were included in the ill-fated cap and trade legislation that died in Congress in 2010.
In the interest of fairness, not all of Dr. Ingraffea’s comments were critical of natural gas development. In response to a question from an intern for the House Science Committee, professor Ingraffea admitted that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t contaminate groundwater.
“Fracking doesn’t cause water contamination. You are talking about 1 hour during well stimulation over 30 years. It happens because you drilled a well, not fracking it. I agree, fracking has not caused materials to migrate through 4,000 feet of rock to contaminate drinking water.”
Not to be a stickler, but fracturing takes three to five days not one hour. But hey, at this point we’ll take any sort of agreement we can get from the professor. We’ll add his support to that of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and others in testifying to the safety of hydraulic fracturing.
Just another day listening to the good doctor from Cornell. Funny thing is, after his remarks I thought I might need my doctor to make a house call as I was beginning to feel woozy from all the hot air.