Cornell study assessed climate change impact of natural gas drilling


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We at the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities would like to congratulate and recognize the incredible efforts of our colleagues at Cornell University for their recent research study published in Climate Change Letters, entitled “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations.” Led by Dr. Robert Howarth, the study sought to determine the effect that natural gas drilling in shale formations has on the atmosphere over a 20-year period.*

Methane gas, the major component of natural gas, has been promoted by some entities as a greener energy alternative than the use of coal because it burns cleaner. Results of this recent Cornell study, however, indicate that the methane emissions that result from the natural gas industry may result in a greater greenhouse gas footprint than other forms of energy extraction.  This is partially due to the fact that methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

From a researcher’s perspective, accurate and up-to-date data regarding the amount of methane gas that escapes during the life cycle of natural gas drilling is difficult to access – if it exists at all. To better-understand how natural gas drilling in shale formations will affect public health and the environment, especially as this industry develops, we must continue to conduct peer-reviewed research like the most recent Cornell study. Full Report

* A criticism of this study has been the shorter, 20-year time span they used to analyze the data. This approach was taken because methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.