Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cornell Study Claiming Natural Gas Dirtier Than Coal Debunked

Well that didn't take long! I noted significant deficiencies with the Cornell study here. Namely:

  • The Methane made me do it: The Studies conclusions rely almost entirely on the application of a Global Warming Potential (GWP) that is almost 45% higher for natural gas than the one cited by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007
  • Faulty data leads to faulty analysis and even the study's authors admit their data is "lousy"
  • Lost and Unaccounted for Gas (LUG) relies on non peer reviewed Texas trade magazine that is no longer in circulation
  • The author's estimates on pipeline leakage relies on data and assumptions that are completely irrelevant to the Marcellus shale
  • Politics and science don't mix, but I repeat myself
Although I correctly predicted that environmentalist's would use this data to further their desire to ban natural gas drilling outright, I wasn't expecting to see a study completely debunking Dr. Howarth's findings so quickly published. Timing is everything I suppose.

John Hanger, expert on all things energy, who blogs a Facts of the Day focuses his attention on a study published on 4/19/11 by Gregory C. Staple and Joel N. Swisher titled The Climate Impact of Natural Gas and Coal Fired Electricity: A Review of Fuel Chain Emissions Based on Updated EPA Natural Inventory Data directly contradicts the Cornell study! I wonder if the NYT will give this as much attention?

Regardless, Mr. Hanger has this to say:
Staple and Swisher use the most recent 2011 EPA data on methane leakage rates (not used by Horwath), accepted IPCC global warming potential protocols (not used by Horwath), and calculates emissions for both the production of coal and gas plus the combustion of coal and gas. Unlike Horwath, the Staple-Swisher paper used empirical data readily available concerning the efficiency with which coal plants burn coal and the efficiency with which gas plants burn gas to produce an actual kilowatt-hour of electricity that we then use at our homes and businesses.

Coal plants are less efficient than gas plants. Coal plants require more fuel than gas plants do to produce a kilowatt-hour. The lower efficiency of coal plants are a major reason why they emit more carbon per kilowatt-hour of electricity actually generated than gas plants do.

And if you don't want to read the paper, though I recommend it, here are its principal conclusions:

1. Existing gas fired plants emit 51% less greenhouse gas pollution per kilowatt-hour than existing coal plants;

2. A new gas-fired combined cycle unit produces about 52% less GHG pollution per kilowatt-hour than a new coal fired plant;

3. A new gas-fired combined cycle unit produces about 58% less GHG pollution than the average coal plant and 63% less than a typical older coal plant.
Remember, the same people who keep telling us that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is an affront to public health are the same ones who brought us the carcinogen producing CFL.

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