Last night, some 30 college students and I packed into a Cornell University classroom to listen to Dr. Anthony Ingraffea speak about the negative effects of hydraulic fracturing and then the global warming “epidemic.” Luckily, I have gotten the facts on shale gas development already and it will take more than some colorful graphs from a civil and environmental engineering professor, whose studies have been debunked by his own colleagues, to convince me otherwise. I can only imagine the nightmares of global warming those students had after watching Ingraffea’s presentation. Professor Ingraffea may be the next monster under the bed for them, but what he says is mostly outside his field of expertise and often just plain wrong, as noted by his fellow Cornell professors.
Ingraffea showed video taken with a FLIR camera to supposedly demonstrate how methane was being vented into the atmosphere during shale gas development (06:10). However, we’ve seen this gimmick before and in the video below you can see how the Cornell exhaust stacks on their campus look exactly the same as those in the video Ingraffea shows, so I guess Cornell must be developing some natural gas somewhere on the campus, but I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out where the source might be. What Ingraffea really shows, of course, is nothing more than combustion exhausts – hot air, not hydrocarbons.
Ingraffea (“Tony the Tiger” to us), who uses natural gas to heat his own home, then attacked natural gas development for what he suggests are high carbon dioxide emissions. He indicated this is contributing to an inevitable “red zone” at which point we are in “deep doo-doo,” as he describes (20:00). We now know and, surely, Ingraffea also knows but chooses not to accept, carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are back to 1992 levels as a consequence of natural gas development and use, but who’s counting? Certainly not our friend Tony.
Here’s what John Hanger has observed about this achievement:
The shale gas revolution in the USA has led to miraculous declines in carbon emissions and it could be doing so in China, India, Europe, and around the world. It is an absolute tragedy that among the biggest obstacles to beginning shale gas production in some countries and slashing quickly carbon emissions can be environmentalists who seek to ban “fracking.”
What I found interesting about Ingraffea’s understanding of this is that he states “Shale gas is dirtier than coal and dirtier than diesel; its not a clean fossil fuel.” I don’t think anyone here ever said it was a completely clean fossil fuel (and no other energy source is completely clean, either). It is, however, the cleanest of all the fossil fuels we use. (17:00)
When Ingraffea talks about how supposedly dirty natural gas is, he refers to the amount of methane put into the atmosphere during development. It is a known fact methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. However, the extent to which Ingraffea talks about these emissions is far exaggerated as proven with his “study” being debunked by multiple entities including studies funded by the Sierra Club.
Applying the EPA’s new estimates, the life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas-fired electricity increased roughly 11 percent, according to the study. Despite a substantial increase in the methane assumed to be emitted during natural gas production, we found that U.S. natural gas-fired electricity generation still released 47 percent fewer greenhouse gases than coal from source to use.
Saya Kitasei, a Worldwatch Institute Sustainable Energy Fellow
What is Your Solution?
The final part of Ingraffea’s presentation was an attempt to evoke discussion from students and find out what they would do to lower greenhouse gas emissions and keep us out of the “red zone.” Students gave responses many of which were to ramp up renewable energy sources and stop all fossil fuel development, exactly what I expected to hear.
Then Ingraffea gave his proposal on how he would handle global temperature change, which was to stop all development and use of fossil fuels; increase the use of renewable and nuclear energy. This was an interesting response coming from a person and group that complains about radon in flowback fluid. I wonder if Ingraffea is familiar with the waste products from nuclear energy and how that is disposed. I guess I shouldn’t complain though, at least someone gave an alternative plan instead of just say no to everything like most anti’s.
Ingraffea talked about how shale gas was not the answer and other things to look to were wind and solar energy. Again, its very easy to sit back and say “hey lets use the sun and wind to power everything” yup, thats great. But what about those rare earth minerals we need to mine to make those solar panels function?
Ingraffea complained about the amount of steel we had to produce for pipelines and natural gas infrastructure and how this manufacturing creates green house emissions. What about the production of windmills and all that steel? What about the transportation of these windmills to site, that produces green house gases as well, the amount of birds killed off from windmills, etc.?
Cornell’s Position on Hydraulic Fracturing
In a recent Forbes Magazine article the President and Vice-President of Cornell University had this to say about hydraulic Fracturing:
We cannot put this genie back in the bottle. Fracking is already being carried out across the country. And shale basins have been identified on six continents, making fracking a truly global issue. The questions before us are not only whether to frack, but how, where and with what safeguards in place.
With natural gas supplies plentiful for now and prices relatively low, we have time to make sound decisions about our shale gas resources. In creative partnership with government and industry, universities can help make sure we get it right.
Clearly the higher-ups at Cornell believe that shale gas development is the future and appear to support it. However, Ingraffea does not agree with Cornell’s position on the matter. Is it just my imagination, or was Tony a little rattled by the Cornell leadership’s remarks? You be the judge, but it wasn’t a very convincing answer and, for just a second, I thought the good professor wanted to be back on that football field he likes to talk about, tackling his boss, the Cornell quarterback.
Most of us are for energy independence, whether it comes from nuclear, solar, coal, wind, or natural gas. Most of us want an “all of the above” solution. Whether we like to admit it or not, all sources have impacts and anyone who says otherwise is either not educated on the matter or deceptive. We need to reach a compromise between fossil fuels and renewable energy. Many of the antis want to bring renewable energy to areas and gradually phase out the use of fossil fuels.
We all get it and most of us support renewable energy development, but what happened in New York when a wind farm was proposed and voted down because of “visual pollution” can’t be ignored. Every energy source has NIMBY opponents. Perhaps, if Tony Ingraffea and friends would just take his boss’s suggestion and work towards a solution by refining the process rather than trying to stop it, we’d get somewhere.