Research

“New methane study backs climate case against fracking” – campaigners; “erroneous conclusions” – industry

pnr 190723 Ros Wills

Preparations for fracking at Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site near Blackpool, 23 July 2019. Photo: Ros Wills

Opponents of onshore shale gas in the UK have said new research on global methane emissions supports their call for a ban on fracking on climate change grounds.

But the onshore industry has dismissed the findings as “erroneous”, based on “unrepresentative small datasets”.

The study from Cornell University, published today, concluded that increased levels of climate-altering methane in the atmosphere may be from North American shale gas and oil developments.

Author Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, based his theory on the changing chemical composition of methane.

There has been a relative fall in the form of methane typically associated with conventional oil and gas developments, which is high in carbon-13.

Other researchers had ascribed the relative rise of methane low in carbon-13 to livestock farming and wetlands. But Professor Howarth said that the increased emissions were far more likely to be from unconventional gas and oil developments which, he said, was also low in carbon-13.

While acknowledging that his study was based on a small data set, he said:

“Correcting for this difference, we conclude that emissions from shale gas production in North America over the past decade may well be the leading cause of the increased flux of methane to the atmosphere.”

Increased methane from animal and wetland sources were “far less important than indicated by some other recent papers”, he said.

“This recent increase in methane is massive.

“It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player.

“If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

The paper notes that the source of methane emissions from unconventional gas and oil could be from deliberate venting, emergency blowdowns and routine maintenance of pipelines and compressor stations.

“Fracking has forced methane emissions to unprecedented levels”

Opponents of UK fracking said the Cornell research supported previous studies, including the Mobbs Report. This challenged government conclusions that fracked gas had a lower carbon footprint than imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The Mobbs Report was at the centre of a recent case at the High Court won by the campaign group, Talk Fracking. The judge ruled that in not considering the Mobbs Report a government consultation was so flawed as to be unlawful. The case led to the removal from national planning policy of a requirement to support onshore oil and gas on climate grounds.

Today, Nick Cowern, emeritus professor at Newcastle University, who has given evidence to MPs on the climate impact of fracking, said:

“This work partly explains why the global climate has warmed so strongly in the last few years, affecting summer temperatures, melting sea ice and accelerating sea-level rise.

“Instead of cutting the atmospheric concentrations of powerful greenhouse gases like methane, fossil industry emissions – dominated by emissions from fracking – have forced up methane concentrations to unprecedented levels.”

“Time to ban fracking”

A spokesperson for the campaign network, Frack Free United, said:

“The results in this report confirm the suspicions of climate campaigners everywhere, and shows that fracking is driving climate change: one third of the total increase in global methane emissions since 2008 has come from shale gas, and that shale gas makes up more than half of the global increase in emissions due to fossil fuels.

“Methane is driving climate change faster than ever, and it’s not just that. Methane emissions have done significant damage to public health and agriculture and the cost implications alone are huge. Time to act. Time to ban fracking.”

“UK onshore shale must be priority to reduce energy emissions”

The Cornell study was rejected this evening by the UK onshore industry body, UKOOG.

Its chief executive, Ken Cronin, said:

“Unfortunately, this paper amounts to erroneous conclusions drawn from unrepresentative small datasets and just 10% of the publicly available literature on the topic.

“The core tenet of the paper is that increases in global methane abundance have primarily been driven by shale gas production, based on the assumption that shale gas is ‘biogenic’ in nature. Regrettably for its author, academics from Royal Holloway, Cambridge, Bristol and other leading universities recently came to the conclusion that the evidence does not support this theory. Specifically in the case of the UK, they have stated that isotopic analysis of the core samples and gas flow data have confirmed that the resource has a distinct ‘thermogenic’ character.

“In reality, this failure to accept their conclusions, and recent literature which has shown that increases in atmospheric methane concentration have been primarily driven by biogenic sources, means that the study has disregarded 90% of publicly available literature to come to its conclusion. Had the author concluded that coal methane emissions – which do identify as biogenic in many cases – had driven the increase in global methane abundance, there would have been a better case.

“Ultimately, UK shale has been forecast to have a lifecycle methane emission rate of 0.5%, and a pre-combustion footprint half that of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar, Russia and the US that we are becoming ever more reliant on. If we do nothing, this trend to import will continue, and by 2035 we’ll be procuring nearly 75% of our gas from these higher emission sources. The evidence is clear: if we want to reduce our energy emissions, developing UK onshore shale must be a priority.”

Ideas and perspectives: is shale gas a major driver of recent increase in global atmospheric methane? is published in the peer-reviewed journal, Biogeosciences

37 replies »

  1. According to some environmental groups, there was once more than 20 million bison roaming the Great Plains. This number may not be far fetched. According to one academic paper, the bison carrying capacity of the Great Plains in 1860 was estimated between 13.78 to 20.67 million bison. According to EPA calculations, American bison generate as much or more methane as do beef cattle on a per-head basis.
    http://jaysonlusk.com/blog/2014/8/22/buffalo-extermination-environmental-catastrophe-or-savior

    So before hydraulic fracturing and not long after the industrial revolution.

  2. Ken Cronin PR for fracking industry or a professor from Cornell University, I know who I consider more credible. It remains to be seen what footprint U.K. shale has because a forecast is just a forecast. This study looks at all stages of gas production, including flaring, venting, transportation, compression etc, so 0.5% sounds incredibly low. And by 2035 hopefully gas consumption will have continued to decline and as I understand it the emissions of European gas by pipeline are lower than U.K. fracking so we’d be mad not to import from Europe. Not to mention in 2017 the government confirmed the U.K. has gas security of supply for the next 20 years without the inclusion of shale gas. So no point investing in a fracking industry as it is unproven, unsustainable, may prove uneconomic as in the US and has higher emissions than European gas. Far better to create well paid, skilled and engineering jobs in new technologies that the U.K. can lead in and give O&G workers a fair transition.

  3. “This recent increase in methane is massive.”
    Add to that the recent and significant increases in global warming. Isn’t that an urgent call for action? Although the source of a massive increase in methane (a particularly powerful driver of climate change) is important, isn’t it simply a call to arms to control methane emissions of whatever source, because it sure isn’t a natural increase? Is it really beyond the wit of man to clearly identify ALL sources of methane leaks/production and then to control or stop it? Do we start by building on a sensible peer reviewed study by academic experts or do we listen to the CEO of a trade body trying to establish a brand new fossil fuel extraction industry? Just take urgent and immediate action. We’re all to blame, but some people vastly more so.

  4. It’s interesting that the anti-frackers tell us how they can do their own research are getting very excited about this paper. It doesn’t take much knowledge or research to realise that the isotopic composition of methane from shale that they used to justify their conclusions is completely wrong. Howarth is a fracktivist who now seems to be cherry picking data to support his views.

    • So you’re saying that Howarth is merely an anti fracking activist cherry picking data and coming to completely wrong conclusions, rather than an eminent academic at a highly respected academic institution, producing a credible peer reviewed study. You need some very credible qualifications, experience and evidence to back that up. Would you like to enlighten us or do we assume you’re merely another [edited by moderator] pro fracker stating a personal opinion based purely on your own preferences and beliefs? Will your analysis be peer reviewed? Do you know what the peer review process involves?

      • Mike – do your own research. Read the paper – see what isotopic composition he assumes and then check if that value is consistent with other studies – it’s not.

        The statement put out by Kevin is 100% correct. Of course it wasn’t him who did the research that lead him to that view it was someone who happens to know far more than Howarth about the isotopic composition of methane derived from shale.

        Prof Grant Allen, Professor of Atmospheric Physics, University of Manchester, released as statement about this study in which he wrote

        “This paper suggests that US fracking may be responsible for a large proportion of this observed rise but this claim is highly contentious in the academic community”

        Of course this is a nice way of saying that the study is complete bulls**t.

        • Simon. Professor Grant Allen of the Centre for Atmospheric Science, Manchester University is also a NERC research fellow . The NERC is funded by the BEIS. Maybe not quite so independent.

          • Pauline – you are clueless about NERC. It is totally independent and run by Prof Duncan Wingham who is a hard core environmental scientist. Questioning NERCs impartiality just shows the level of paranoia in the anti fracking community. I note that you don’t seem to be questioning Howarths work due to the fact that he’s a member of an anti fracking group

              • The NERC is defined as being “supported mainly by the BEIS”.
                Professor Grant Allen declares his interests as – “supported mainly by BEIS but our activities and funding decisions areindependent of government.
                Make of that what you will.

        • While the wholly expected response on here is consistent with the title i.e. the usual polarised positions, the actual study appears to me to be an interesting hypothesis on the source of a huge increase in atmospheric methane. As per my previous comment, that huge increase needs to be sourced and controlled with the utmost urgency.
          Note the important language: “While acknowledging that his study was based on a small data set, he said: “Correcting for this difference, we conclude that emissions from shale gas production in North America over the past decade may well be the leading cause of the increased flux of methane to the atmosphere.” I see no definitive claim there, just ‘may well be’. Science will always move on. Given the catastrophic effect of atmospheric methane, I see this study as a challenge to existing thinking. That challenge needs all the experts to look closely again at their previous position and decide what can be learned from any new evidence and analysis…. preferably very quickly. Or do you think it’s more beneficial for everyone to hunker down in their respective polarised bunkers hurling insults about mad professors?

          • Mike – the carbon isotopic composition of methane -60 and -20 with a mean of -40. Howarth ignored more than 90% of the data to come up the figure of -48, which he used in his modelling. The only discussion in academia about the paper is how it passed peer review

            • ‘The only discussion in academia about the paper is how it passed peer review’ I’ll have to take you word for it that you are aware of all academic discussion around the subject (or decide not to as the case may be). But it did pass peer review. Explain how pls as you have such an intimate knowledge of such things – including a better insight than a Professor at Cornell Uni.

              • Mike – it’s a bit off subject for the journal it was published in so that might explain how it slipped through the net. Why don’t you just read the papers and come up with an explanation why Howarth has chosen to ignore more than 90% of the data available on the isotopic composition of gas from shale. Just because someone is a professor doesn’t mean that they are correct about everything. There are lots of professors who argue against man made climate change but I don’t think you’d listen to them. This seems like a case where Howarths paper supports your beliefs and that’s all you need to know to class it as a reliable piece of work.

                • So it ‘slipped through the net’. Perhaps those who peer reviewed it would have a different view. I’m sure they have a procedure to follow quite rigidly, although yes, it’s possible that they got confused or got distracted so this one passed them by without proper scrutiny. I doubt it. Not being a prof in this specific subject, I can’t explain Howarth ignoring more than 90% of available data, but that’s your expert opinion and I have no evidence of your expertise or qualifications. I’ll listen to anyone putting forward a credible argument, but when those experts in the subject arguing man made climate change is real and urgent overwhelmingly outnumber deniers massively, I don’t have the expertise to challenge that concensus and can’t help but feel there’s a message in there. I also see the predicted results of AGW being reported on an almost daily basis. If it’s all fake news, the news reports are remarkably well staged, as are many of the floods and flood victims that I’ve had direct contact with.
                  I don’t class the paper as a reliable piece of work. I class it as a hypothesis by someone with vastly more expertise than me that needs to be dissected and argued by other experts with an opposing view, mainly due to the fact that the source of huge increases in atmospheric methane need to be identified and rectified (read my other comments). Do excuse me if I don’t blindly trust your opinion. Are you an AGW denier and do you think the measuring of atmospheric methane is wrong too? If there’s been a huge increase in recent years, do you think it needs addressing or not?

            • This latest paper was peer reviewed by fellow Cornell Prof. Tony Ingraffea.

              For those that maybe unaware Prof. Robert Howarth and Prof. Tony Ingraffea worked together and published another report back in 2011 that estimated industry methane leakage rates at between 7 to 8%.

  5. The same Howarth who has been banging on with his widely criticised complaints of massive methane emissions. There simply is not serious mechanism for this. His original paper was slagged off by so many.
    http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/Howarth%20et%20al%20%202011.pdf.

    It also ignores the improvements that have been made in the US re poor well design. In the UK the well design and methane control is heavily regulated by the Environment Agency.

    The point about imports of LNG from UKOOG are very pertinent. Bringing a gas from distant countries, liquefying it, then heating it to change it back to a gas is VERY energy intensive and there are many opportunities for leaks. There is a 20% penalty on GHG emissions even if there is no leakage! The fact that increasing amounts of this gas is coming from Russia, to finance bombs for Syria, and the development of hyperspeed weapons that could kill us, means it is bonkers to import.

  6. The same Howarth who has been banging on with his widely criticised complaints of massive methane emissions. There simply is not serious mechanism for this. His original paper was slagged off by so many.
    http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/Howarth%20et%20al%20%202011.pdf.

    It also ignores the improvements that have been made in the US re poor well design. In the UK the well design and methane control is heavily regulated by the Environment Agency.

    The point about imports of LNG from UKOOG are very pertinent. Bringing a gas from distant countries, liquefying it, then heating it to change it back to a gas is VERY energy intensive and there are many opportunities for leaks. There is a 20% penalty on GHG emissions even if there is no leakage! The fact that increasing amounts of this gas is coming from Russia, to finance bombs for Syria, and the development of hyperspeed weapons that could kill us, means it is bonkers to import.

  7. “Methane emissions have done significant damage to public health and agriculture and the cost implications alone are huge.” Yes methane is so bad for us that only 80% of homes have piped in!

  8. Dr. Howarth, suggests that North American shale gas extraction is responsible for one-third of the global increase in methane over the last decade,

    But the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network has seen no large increase in US methane emissions and the GOSAT (Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite) satellite did not see increases in methane emissions in the areas where “a nine-fold increase in shale gas production” was taking place.

    A peer reviewed article was recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, by Lan et. al., (2019) titled ‘Long term measurements show little evidence for large increases in total US Methane emissions over the past decade’

    The “Plain Language Summary” for this paper says:

    “In the past decade, natural gas production in the United States has increased by ~46%. Methane emissions associated with oil and natural gas productions have raised concerns since methane is a potent greenhouse gas with the second largest influence on global warming. Recent studies show conflicting results regarding whether methane emissions from oil and gas operations have been increased in the United States. Based on long‐term and well‐calibrated measurements, we find that (i) there is no large increase of total methane emissions in the United States in the past decade; [my emphasis] (ii) there is a modest increase in oil and gas methane emissions, but this increase is much lower than some previous studies suggest; and (iii) the assumption of a time‐constant relationship between methane and ethane emissions has resulted in major overestimation of an oil and gas emissions trend in some previous studies”

    https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1029/2018GL081731

      • Phil C – where did John Harrison deny that “Global Warming is Happening and Humans are the Primary Cause”?

        • Simon- At least I was spared from one of his page long pointless rambles and the even more pointless song lyrics….for now.

        • Simon Maynard:

          Where did i say i was talking to John Harrison? I was in fact addressing the subject of the post. Now i realise that it is difficult for you to appreciate that not everything written here is or isnt about you or your “friend”s posts, but it is nevertheless it is the unfortunate truth.

          However, John Harrison was also commenting on the subject of the post wasnt he, and that clearly says as Ruth has written in the title and the text:

          “New methane study backs climate case against fracking” – campaigners; “erroneous conclusions” – industry”

          “Opponents of onshore shale gas in the UK have said new research on global methane emissions supports their call for a ban on fracking on climate change grounds.
          But the onshore industry has dismissed the findings as “erroneous”, based on “unrepresentative small datasets”.
          The study from Cornell University, published today, concluded that increased levels of climate-altering methane in the atmosphere may be from North American shale gas and oil developments.”

          I merely corrected that erronous statement that: “But the onshore industry has dismissed the findings as “erroneous”, based on “unrepresentative small datasets” and proved it to be untrue, the rest was additional information that proves that assumption to be untrue.

          Or didnt you read the text of the subject matter?

          But i do see that you have avoided addressing the lobbying by the fossil fuel industry that you challenged Pauline on.

          Funny that isnt it.

        • Perhaps John Harrison, that “pointless” is precisely the content of the post you have provided, since it fails to address the subject in hand, and is hence literally pointless.

          and since gaslighting (appropriate term isn it?) is clearly more important to you than the subject,and since you love song lyrics so much, here is something just for you:

          Slaves
          “The Punter”

          The people are freezing
          And the water is warm
          And the ice caps are melting
          What will happen when they’re gone
          Will the experts look stupid
          And invert the facts
          Will they gave you back your donations
          Or keep the paper stacks
          The feeling is mutual
          You don’t like what we do
          Because we say what we are thinking
          And that shocks and frightens you
          The lion in the jungle shows no shame, it shows no pride
          It does what it needs to to stay strong and to survive

          The Punter is pointless
          The Punter is pointless

          You can keep it
          Don’t want it
          Keep smiling through your teeth
          Oh what is it
          Your justice cut the hands of the thief
          He was starving
          His children were crying to be fed
          And now they’re bawling
          And dying
          But at least you are ahead
          Just be patient
          Keep waiting
          That’s what they always say
          But you’re tired and you’re aching
          And the pain won’t go away
          So stand up and speak out
          See that your needs are met
          Oh the odds are against you
          But please place your bet yeah
          You keep it
          We don’t want it
          You keep it
          We don’t want it
          The Punter is pointless
          You keep it
          The Punter is pointless
          We don’t want it
          The Punter is pointless
          You keep it
          The Punter is pointless
          We don’t want it

          It’s useless
          And worthless
          We’re staring at the sun
          Oh it is reckless
          And pointless
          But it’s also very fun
          It’s useless
          And worthless
          We’re staring at the sun
          Oh it is reckless
          And pointless
          But it’s also very fun
          It’s useless
          And worthless
          We’re staring at the sun
          Oh it is reckless
          And pointless
          But it’s also very fun
          It’s useless
          And worthless
          We’re staring at the sun
          Oh it is reckless
          And pointless
          But it’s also very fun

          You keep it
          We don’t want it
          You keep it
          We don’t want it
          The Punter is pointless
          You keep it
          The Punter is pointless
          We don’t want it
          The Punter is pointless
          You keep it
          The Punter is pointless
          We don’t want it

          Enjoy!

          Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.