Cornell gas study stirs heated debate

Posted: May 4, 2011

Written by

Tom Zeller, Jr., The New York Times

More researchers and policy analysts have had a chance to digest a new study analyzing the climate impacts of unconventional natural gas development, published this week in the journal Climatic Change Letters. Many of the reactions echo earlier complaints that some of the methane leak data on which the study’s conclusions were based are thin (a fact that the authors, including the lead author, Robert Howarth of Cornell University, conceded).

Others critics continue to suggest that the authors unduly amplified the greenhouse gas footprint of unconventional gas development by measuring the global warming potential of leaked methane over a 20-year time frame, rather than the 100 years more commonly used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That choice, the critics say, jacks up methane’s global warming footprint unnecessarily, allowing the authors to reach their controversial conclusion: that unconventional natural gas development is worse than coal.

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