Just days after the Sierra Club released a report rehashing its thoroughly debunked argument that natural gas development is “releasing billions of tons of new climate-disrupting carbon pollution into the air,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its latest assessment, which should finally put this claim to rest. As the IPCC makes clear, it’s largely because of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas that the United States has been able to reduce its GHG emissions dramatically:
“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply… this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” (Ch. 7, p. 527)
Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to remember what Sierra Club Director Michael Brune said about the IPCC when it released its latest, fifth assessment report (AR5). He said:
“First, the scientific work reported by the IPCC in the AR5 is the gold standard for getting a big-picture understanding of what’s happening to the climate.” (emphasis added)
Bill McKibben, the head of another activist group, 350.org, has also been calling the IPCC the “gold standard” for years. Frances Beinecke of the anti-fracking NRDC put it this way: “The IPCC is the most authoritative group in the business.”
What’s also interesting is how these groups have long leveraged the IPCC’s findings to support a ban on fracking. Take, for instance, a letter from Americans Against Fracking to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, which quotes the IPCC heavily. From the letter:
“Your comparison of carbon dioxide and methane falls short in several ways: It ignores methane’s potency. You refer to a two decades’ time scale, but fail to mention that methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide using that time scale, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent assessment released in September.”
Will they finally face facts, now that the IPCC has definitively debunked them? Or will they merely stop using that talking point?
Of note, the IPCC’s latest assessment also provides a sizable rebuke to anti-fracking researchers Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth. Just as a refresher: Ingraffea is the activist who famously stated hydraulic fracturing was a “gangplank to more warming,” while Howarth signed a “pledge of resistance” to hydraulic fracturing with other prominent anti-fracking activists, including Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox. The two have paired up on numerous (highly flawed) studies – including one they released this week – purporting high methane leakage rates during natural gas development.
So what has the world’s most prominent climate science body determined on that? As the IPCC states,
“While some studies estimate that around 5% of the produced gas escapes in the supply chain, other analyses estimate emissions as low as 1% (Stephenson et al., 2011; Howarth et al.,2011; Cathles et al., 2012). Central emission estimates of recent analyses are 2%─3% (+/‐1%) of the gas produced, where the emissions from conventional and unconventional gas are comparable.” (p. 19; emphasis added)
That’s a far cry from what Ingraffea and Howarth have been claiming over the past few years. Not only that, but the IPCC states that even “[t]aking into account revised estimates for fugitive emissions, recent lifecycle assessment indicate that specific GHG emission are reduced by one half” as more power plants are powered by natural gas (p. 19).
Over the past several months, anti-fracking activists have been contradicted on their climate arguments by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, their “climate champion” Secretary of State John Kerry, numerous Obama administration officials, and even President Obama himself. Back in 2011, a study that was funded by the Sierra Club even rebuffed the Club’s talking points on methane “leaks” from shale development.
Now, even the activists’ “gold standard” – the IPCC – has publicly rebuked their claims. It is past time for all of us to recognize the science and stop giving a forum to this nonsensical argument that shale gas is a climate disaster. It’s not.