There are new twists to in the ever-entertaining faux debate over the dangers of shale gas. The New YorkTimes, which turned obscure Cornell University marine ecologist Robert Howarth into an anti-fracking rock star in its questionable spring series on shale gas, and got hammered for it by its own public editor—I‘ll take some of the credit—is finally getting on the science bandwagon.
Last April, the Times ran two articles in a week heavily promoting Howarth’s bizarre claim that shale gas generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the production and use of coal. It would be difficult to overstate the influence of this paper, which ricocheted through the media echo chamber and was even debated in the British parliament and the European Union.
When the Times didn’t report then, and until now has almost systematically ignored, is that almost every independent researcher — at the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Energy Department and numerous independent university teams, including a Carnegie Mellon study partly financed by the Sierra Club — has slammed Howarth’s conclusions. Within the field, Howarth is considered an activist, not an independent scientist. But you’d never know that reading the Times’ fracking coverage, with independent lefty columnistJoe Nocera as the notable, and refreshing, exception.
Maybe a little fresh air is finally leaking into the Times insular chambers. Calling Cathles’ report a “fresh rebuttal” of Howarth’s much-maligned study,Dot Earth’s Andrew Revkin cites the latest researcher to diss Howarth’s shaky science by a colleague at Cornell, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences professorLawrence Cathles, who is an expert in this field, unlike Howarth.
Cathles convincingly demolishes Howarth’s four major claims, two of which we’ll highlight here:
- Howarth et al. claimed that shale gas wells are virtual methane sieves. But as Cathles shows, Howarth appears to have deliberately used 2007 data, a century ago by shale gas technology standards. He’s off by 10-20 times—at least.
- Howarth claimed that emissions during well completions are far greater than for other gas wells. Among other things, Howarth used decades old data from the Soviet Union to make this bogus case.
Cathles conclusion is critical but unremarkable in that it reflects the conclusions of almost every major researcher in the field, except the favorite of the Times, and hardleft advocacy magazines such as Mother Jones: “The data clearly shows that substituting natural gas for coal will have a substantial greenhouse benefit under almost any set of reasonable assumptions.”
According to Revlin: “[T]he notion that gas holds no advantage over coal, in weighing the climate implications of energy choices, is fading fast (to my reading of the science and that of many others.),” he wrote. In fact, the farcical “shale gas is dirtier than coal” claim was never scientifically seriousness enough to fade; it is and was a fiction of activists, including Howarth, whose goal is to undermine a balanced scientific debate on shale gas and climate change.
Although Dot.com writer Revkin may understand the nuances of the shale gas debate, there are no signs the reporters on the print edition of the paper are opening their minds. The questions for the mothership, Mother Jones and other publications, whose reporting so far appears to echo hard left talking points:
- Will you report this return to science in your paper or continue to bury it on the web?
- When will we see the investigative piece airing out the dirty linen that led to Howarth’s rigged study, including the funding stream from the Park Foundation, which yearly gives millions of dollars to media organizations and community groups targeted specifically to undermine America’s goal to reach a balanced energy future.
Tip to the Times: follow the science.