Carnegie Mellon Refutes Cornell Study on Natural Gas vs Coal

A new peer-reviewed study from Carnegie Mellon University says that Marcellus gas has less impact on global warming than coal. The study, published in the Institute of Physics Aug. 5th issue of “Environmental Research Letters” is a direct refutation of the Cornell study released in April by professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea. The Cornell study was based on sketchy data (admitted to by Howarth & Ingraffea), and pure guesswork. It made the claim that shale gas was worse for global warming and the environment than burning coal.


The Carnegie study finds that burning natural gas is 20-50 percent cleaner than burning coal when producing electricity—a conclusion most people know instinctively. It’s only by doing extreme mental gymnastics that you can say burning gas is worse for the environment than burning coal.

The Carnegie Mellon study looks specifically at Marcellus and the “life cycle greenhouse gas emissions” associated with its production and consumption.

Marcellus gas is essentially no different than conventional natural gas, the study found, and 20-50 percent cleaner than coal for producing electricity.

“Marcellus shale gas emits 50 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than any U.S. coal-fired plant,” said study co-author Chris Hendrickson. “We favor extraction of Marcellus shale natural gas as long as the extraction is managed to minimize adverse economic, environmental and social impacts.”

Former DEP Secretary John Hanger lauded the new study on his blog, saying it “debunks and decimates professor Howarth’s hit piece study that the NYT gas reporter and other media gave so much attention.”

“By contrast,” Hanger said, “the CMU study has received very little press attention so the result remains that many people think Howarth is the final word on this important matter.”*

Read the entire peer-reviewed study online here:

Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of Marcellus shale gas

*Harrisburg The Patriot News (Aug 17, 2011) – New shale study refutes Cornell: Marcellus gas better than coal



Point and Counter Point

DSEC responds to an essay that appeared in the spring 2011 Dryden Democrat Newsletter (the DSEC responses are in red):


Drilling Ban in Dryden
by Jason Leifer

When I ran for re-election in 2009, I said, during a forum at the Neptune Fire Hall, that I would not support gas drilling in Dryden unless it were safe. Nothing since that day has changed my position, and at this time, I see no reason why we should allow gas drilling to occur in Dryden.  Safety is, how-ever, but one of several concerns of mine and many people in Dryden.


DSEC also believes in safety but we believe that all life activity involves some risk.   The question is not total safety, but minimizing risk and weighing it against reward.  The Town has ignored the benefits of energy development, including reducing our dependence on foreign energy supplies.  The DEC has found regulated drilling safe.  We accept that.  Also, we do not believe the law places the decision on safety in the hands of town government, town government is preempted.  It’s not the town’s choice, it’s the State’s choice, it’s the law.

First, shale gas drilling as now practiced is a heavy industrial land use that the town has never contemplated in either its zoning or its comprehensive plan, both of which seek to preserve the rural character of the town, protect open space, and limit industry to light manufacturing.


“When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean --- neither more nor less.”  No law defines shale gas drilling as a heavy industrial use.  Those who have actually seen a gas pad after the temporary drilling phase, can clearly see that there is no heavy industrial use.  The one state that does define the term says it requires more than 20 acres and gives as examples steel mills and paper pulp mills.  The resulting pad fits in well with farming and a rural character.  Drilling is not heavy industry and just claiming it is does not make it so.

Second, the method used to extract the gas from shale formations such as the Utica and Marcellus will place our water supplies at risk of contamination, not only from the drilling itself  but also from surface spills due to human error or incompetence or, more ominously, well blowouts. Recent accidents in Pennsylvania make the safety concerns perfectly clear.


Statistics just don’t support this claim at any significant level.  The DEC certainly considered these risks.  The fear level of water pollution is not supported by the statistics of problems shown to be actually related to drilling.  The people of New York State, particularly upstate, support the value of energy development.

Third, with gas wells come gas pipe-lines called “feeders” that will feed gas to gathering and/or transmission lines and not necessarily to homes in the town.


Pipelines require some excavation when they go in but once in, they are covered over and are grassy swales.  The Town’s recent ban includes all gas pipelines, so new homes built in Dryden are not permitted to hook up to existing natural gas lines.  How can we who use fossil fuels expect to have them available if we restrict the pipelines necessary to move these fuels?

Fourth, based upon information from other states, I believe that the drilling activity will cost the town more than we would obtain in tax revenue from the property taxes generated by producing wells. The costs would not simply be in dollars spent on repairing roads but also dollars spent in the need for increased fire protection services and equipment, increased law enforcement activity, and increased social services such as housing assistance.


No statistics are offered.  But, road ordinances can require the energy companies to repair the damages, provided the ordinances are applied neutrally to all industries.  The revenues obtain from the ad valorem tax on gas would go to our county, towns, and school districts and could solve much of their financial difficulties.

Fifth, I do not trust that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation will take our community concerns seriously or police the industry effectively. This is based upon my experience with DEC over my inquiry into the proposed Cook 1 well on Irish Settlement Road.


“Taking concerns seriously” does not necessarily mean validating them.  The DEC has a reputation as a “tough enforcer” and is certainly committed to the environment.  DSEC trusts the DEC to do its job.

Lastly, a great many people in Dryden have valid concerns about how their property rights and values will be affected by gas drilling. These non-participants do not want their property values to drop, their water sup-plies to be put at risk; they do not want to be forced into participating via compulsory integration; and they do not want their taxes to go up be-cause of this industry’s activity in the Town of Dryden.


These non-participants include those who have nothing to directly gain out of natural gas development.  We understand what “they do not want,” but their wants are not the only wants in our community.   The economy and jobs stand to benefit from safe development.  Development will allow farmers to upgrade their farms, families to send their children through college without debt, schools to maintain and grow educational programs, and people to be able to retire without having to work into old age.”  The current ban gives one group total supremacy over another, it takes all away from one group to benefit another, and that taking is not compensated.  If rights are to be taken, the community as a whole should pay the bill.

More New Yorkers support hydrofracking

NEW YORK STATE -- It looks like more New York State voters are supporting the idea of hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, 47 percent of voters surveyed are in favor of natural gas drilling, while 42 percent are opposed. The poll found that people like the potential economic benefits of drilling more than they fear the possible environmental concerns, with 75 percent saying they believe fracking would bring more jobs to the state.

The vice president at Norse Energy Company and representative of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, says that the growing support shows that New Yorkers are becoming more educated about the entire process.

"I think they're becoming better informed not only on the economic benefits, but first and foremost on the safety of the operation," Dennis Holbrook said...


U.S. can try to toss New York natural gas fracking lawsuit, judge says

The following is a report of a judicial action in a pending energy development litigation.  DSEC takes no position on the merits.  As the judge states, the issues are complex.

At Bloomberg:

The U.S. government can argue to throw out a New York lawsuit seeking fuller regulation of natural-gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing, a judge ruled, as trade groups for gas producers asked to intervene in the case.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis said today that the U.S. can move to dismiss the case, which pits arguments for environmental conservation against those for a domestic energy source and new jobs.

“There are constitutional issues,” Garaufis said. “It’s regulatory. It’s statutory. It’s quite a mix of arguments.”


New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman sued federal agencies May 31, saying the Delaware River Basin Commission has proposed regulations that will allow hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, at 15,000 to 18,000 gas wells without a full environmental review, affecting the drinking water of 9 million New Yorkers.

The lawsuit might shut down gas development in the Delaware River Basin “for many years to come,” according to court papers filed by trade groups representing oil and gas companies that hold natural gas leases in New York State. The Marcellus Shale, which lies beneath parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, has an estimated 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, one of the largest such formations in the world, the trade associations said.

Trade groups have standing to file briefs on the U.S. motion to dismiss the case while they seek more formal status to intervene, he said.

The U.S. said in court papers it plans to ask for dismissal of the case on the grounds that the state can’t prove injury and doesn’t have the right to sue federal agencies...


Gasland revisited

This is related to the little video over there in the left sidebar, McAleer v. Fox on Gasland:

The documentary Gasland has attracted wide attention. Among other things, it alleges that the hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells has contaminated nearby water wells with methane in a number of states including Colorado. Because an informed public debate on hydraulic fracturing depends on accurate information, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) would like to correct several errors in the film’s portrayal of the Colorado incidents.

[....] Gasland features three Weld County landowners, Mike Markham, Renee McClure, and Aimee Ellsworth, whose water wells were allegedly contaminated by oil and gas development. The COGCC investigated complaints from all three landowners in 2008 and 2009, and we issued written reports summarizing our findings on each. We concluded that Aimee Ellsworth’s well contained a mixture of biogenic and thermogenic methane that was in part attributable to oil and gas development, and Mrs. Ellsworth and an operator reached a settlement in that case.

However, using the same investigative techniques, we concluded that Mike Markham’s and Renee McClure’s wells contained biogenic gas that was not related to oil and gas activity. Unfortunately, Gasland does not mention our McClure finding and dismisses our Markham finding out of hand...

[....] In support of its thesis that the Markham and McClure water wells were contaminated by oil and gas development, the Gasland website makes several arguments that merit a brief response. First, the website quotes Professor Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University for the proposition that drilling and hydraulic fracturing could cause biogenic methane to migrate into aquifers under certain circumstances. However, Professor Ingraffea’s statement does not suggest that these circumstances apply to the Markham and McClure wells, nor does it address the extensive scientific literature establishing that biogenic methane is naturally present in the aquifer in question...

[....] Finally, it should be understood that the COGCC Director, Dave Neslin, offered to speak with Gasland’s producer, Josh Fox, on camera during the filming of the movie. Because the issues are technical and complex and arouse concerns in many people, Director Neslin asked that he be allowed to review any material from the interview that would be included in the final film. Unfortunately, Mr. Fox declined. Such a discussion might have prevented the inaccuracies noted above.

Read the whole thing.  Source: Department of Natural Resources, State of Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission paper

DSEC letter to Dryden Town Board: policy considerations and a legal warning



Dryden Safe Energy Coalition (DSEC)

c/o Henry S. Kramer

1524 Ellis Hollow Road

Ithaca, New York 14850

(607) 275-3635, Fax (607) 275-3671


August 1, 2011


Dryden Town Supervisor

Members, Town Board

By E-Mail and hand delivery to Town Clerk


As it appears that the Dryden Town Board will be voting on a complete energy development ban on August 2, 2011, this to present DSEC’s position, to amplify Henry Kramer’s prior statement, and to put the Board on formal notice that if it passes a total energy development ban it will be engaging in knowing prospective violations of constitutional rights, federal, and state law.


If the Board enacts the proposed ordinance it may subject the Town not only to litigation costs but also to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars of taking liability, which would ultimately have to be borne by the taxpayers.  The Board should not take lightly the risk of such potential liability.


Whether or not the Board believes it may somehow legally prevail, the Board should weigh the cost to benefit ratio of adopting this ban.  Even assuming, for argument only, that the possibility of success were 50-50, can the Board risk the chance of a nine figure liability?  Not reasonably.


First, the ban would violate the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and constitute a taking requiring just compensation.  The ban entirely confiscates mineral rights to an estimated value of $175 million (valuations may vary, but the significance of the sum involved remains), not including the additional value of royalty rights also likely in the many millions and the costs of litigation.  Alternatively, the Board’s action may be viewed as a 100% confiscatory tax on wealth in mineral rights, a tax outside the Board’s powers, not authorized by and preempted by state law.  Board members have fiduciary responsibilities.  Given the magnitude of potential damages and the outsized legal risks, it is simply not fiscally prudent behavior to adopt this ban.


Second, the ban would be in violation of the state’s preemption of the regulation of drilling.  In the May Dryden newsletter, the Town Supervisor so acknowledged.  Legal authorities give ban ordinances little chance of surviving court challenge.  The wiser course, when faced with legal doubt, is not to act.


Third, the ban as a zoning ordinance is in violation of many of the holdings of the New York Court of Appeals in the Udell zoning case, a copy of which was previously supplied the Board.  Read the case and it should guide the Board.


Fourth, the ban is ultra vires, that is outside the authority of a town board.  There is no authorization in state law for the Town to enact a complete ban, on the contrary Town action is preempted.  An Article 78 proceeding may follow.


Fifth, a Town may not, by local ordinance, nullify, or make entirely nugatory, state created and recognized mineral rights and general laws.  To do so would, in effect, nullify state law and state created rights within Dryden.  If towns could do this, they could pick and choose which state laws would apply.


Sixth, section 5 of the proposed ban which would have the Dryden ban trump state and federal permits and actions, as a matter of black letter law, is invalid.  It is reasonable to conclude that the Town Board will be knowingly attempting to override and destroy constitutional, federal, and state rights.


Seventh, the ban is discriminatory.  It shifts the entire alleged environmental protection costs onto land and mineral rights holders instead of the general population.  This is not an incidental shift but an overwhelming burden, extinguishing millions of dollars of thousands of individuals’ property rights.  If such an action is taken, it must be a general charge on the population of the Town.  The survey on which our comprehensive plan is built calls for compensation for takings.  Further, such compensation was provided when the Town bought development rights, recognition of the injustice of unpaid taking.


Eighth, adoption of this ban would cloud the land titles of thousands of Dryden residents who have signed leases on 41% of Dryden land.  A ban is a classic force event and may prevent these leases from ever expiring.  A ban could thus condemn many Dryden residents to land sale and mortgage difficulties for years to come, a harsh and selective punishment.


Ninth, the Town may not be insured for any act it takes which it knows, or reasonably should know, is illegal.  The Town is notified it will be in violation of constitutional and legal rights if it enacts the ban.


Tenth, if Town Board members, having notice, violate constitutional and legal rights, they may lose their qualified immunity and be subject to suit in their personal (possibly uninsured) capacities. 


In conclusion, the Town should affirmatively anticipate that federal and/or state court action against it is highly probably, if not virtually certain, on one or more of the above cited or other claims.  You cannot extinguish hundreds of millions of dollars of property values held by thousands of residents and separate mineral rights held by both in and out of state people without anticipating legal actions.  The energy industry has its own causes of action and may also sue. 


It is highly probable that this overly broad ban, as written, will have unforeseen or unintended consequences.  For similar reason, the County Legislature deferred action on a road law.


The more sensible alternative and responsible fiduciary response is to defer any action on a ban until ban challenges elsewhere are litigated.  Certainly, the State is far from ready to begin permitting wells, so there is no need for haste.  You have at a minimum into 2012, if not longer.


The Town should take notice that a ban is inconsistent with environmental advocates’ position favoring the development of natural gas under the Kyoto protocols.  It is also inconsistent for the Town and individuals to use energy from elsewhere while refusing to allow its regulated development locally.  And, failure to develop domestic energy means foreign energy dependence, foreign wars to protect vital energy interests, and the sapping of revenues the government could use to pay debt and provide programs.


DSEC’s mission is to offer balanced, data driven information on safe energy development, to logically and numerically evaluate benefit-to-risk ratios, free of emotional bias or ideology, and to bring together people interested in an analytical approach to energy issues.  A ban does not serve to meet this mission.  It does not allow for a “middle way” in which there is lawful, safe, regulated energy development.  Legally, we believe a total ban is an unnecessary high risk strategy for the Town and which in its uncompensated takings is unjust.


The Board is now on notice.  It is DSEC’s hope the Board will do the prudent thing and recognize there is both division of opinion in Dryden and significant large scale dollar risk.  Both drilling without regulation and refusal to drill are equally extreme solutions.  We oppose both.  Please opt for deliberate moderation and do not adopt in haste this radical total ban.


                                                                        Sincerely yours,


                                                                        Dryden Safe Energy Coalition

                                                                        By Henry S. Kramer, Tracy Marisa

West Virginia city adopts a municipal drilling ban

Note: New York law preempts local zoning bans on energy development (see legal section of this site).  DSEC has no information on preemption under West Virginia law.

NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) -- A natural gas industry group says New Martinsville's new ban on drilling within city limits is ill-conceived, and workers may start taking their business elsewhere.

"We have to react," said Michael McCown, president of the West Virginia Independent Oil & Gas Association. "We do not want to do commerce in communities that do not want our business"...


Fracking and groundwater contamination: the data

The MIT Energy Initiative’s recently released Future of Natural Gas study is a comprehensive and balanced examination of this essential resource.  It contains much information that I will be digesting and using in future posts.  Today, I want to focus on the report’s analysis of environmental risks associated with natgas fracking.  I want to thank Robert Bryce, whose tweets (@pwrhungry) tipped me to this report.

The authors of the report acknowledge that there are risks associated with natural gas drilling in general, and fracking in particular, just as there are in any resource extraction activity.  These risks need to be accounted for and the industry must take steps to mitigate them going forward, especially as drilling expands into regions of the nation that do not have experience with natural gas drilling and where, therefore, the regulatory and oversight functions will be underdeveloped.  That being noted, it is also important to examine the actual occurrence rate of environmental problems.  Over the past ten years, the authors note, there have been over 20,000 wells drilled and very few incidents of groundwater contamination.  In those cases where contamination has occurred, it has usually been gas contamination not, as most commonly feared, contamination with fracking liquids (p. 39).  The chart below (reproduced without permission) shows the low frequency of incidents over the 5 year period of 2005-2009.

So, in the thousands of wells drilled in that period, there have been just 20 incidents of groundwater contamination.  Thus, while it is a legitimate concern and regulators and drillers alike must be aware of the issue, the fear (sometimes bordering on hysteria) surrounding groundwater contamination is simply not supported by the data.  Can it happen?  Yes.  Is it likely to happen on any given well?  Statistically, no.  Is the reported level of incidence worth ceasing development of this vast resource?  In our opinion, definitely not.


Letter to Dryden Town Board on gas drilling prohibition vote

July 28, 2011

TO:  The Dryden Town Board

FROM:  Ron Szymanski

I am writing to the Board to ask that you vote “NO” to amending Article XXI of the Town of Dryden Zoning Ordinance which, if enacted, will prohibit natural gas drilling in the Town of Dryden.  Such a prohibition carries with it a number of serious consequences for the residents of Dryden.

  1. ILLEGAL.  The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has jurisdiction over natural gas drilling in the State.  The DEC underwent a rigorous, 3-year process involving all stake-holders to produce its 1095 page report on High Volume Hydro Fracking.  The DEC is now considered the world expert in this area.  The report directly addressed the concerns of Barbara Lifton (D-Tompkins/Cortland), Legislature Chairperson Martha Robertson (D-Dryden) and County Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden).  The Board knows and confirmed by the Town Attorney on June 15, 2011 that the preemption law gives jurisdiction of natural gas drilling to the state by way of the DEC.  Section 5 of the ban claims power to override state and federal law.  You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that towns can not override federal and state law.
  2. ANTI-TAXPAYER.Banning natural gas drilling eliminates this new and substantial source of tax revenue, continuing to place an ever-increasing burden on the local taxpayer.  In addition, the taxpayer willbe liable in federal and state court to class, group, or individual actions by landowners, the DEC, the Department of Agriculture and Markets, the US Government and the natural gas drilling companies to an estimated $125,000 in legal fees per lawsuit and more significantly, exposure to hundreds of millions in damages for an uncompensated taking of the entire interest in mineral rights.  The damages will not be shared by other towns.
  3. ANTI-BUSINESS.  The natural gas drilling ban limits opportunities for local businesses, from trucking to restaurants.  The County recently dropped a road ordinance because of its unintended consequences on local businesses.  In addition, it denies Dryden residents access to jobs and further compromises our tax base.
  4. ANTI-FARMING.  A ban on natural gas drilling specifically targets farmers and agricultural zones since drilling occurs on open land.  It eliminates an important energy and cash flow source needed for our farmers to survive.  This law is opposed by the Farm Bureau and the Department of Agriculture and Markets.  Prosperous farms are the key to keeping agriculture healthy in Dryden and preserving the character of our community.
  5. ANTI-EDUCATION.  A ban on natural gas drilling denies our schools the benefit of the increased tax revenue they need to not only survive but to grow, innovate and excel.  Also, we learned the Auburn City School District for one uses the natural gas from their property for the school district.  The State will likely enact a gas separation tax which will enable the State to better provide aid to schools.  Finally, it is estimated that the taxes derived from one well will fund 10 teaching positions.

There is clearly no consensus in the Town of Dryden regarding natural gas drilling.  The process of considering this new amendment has proven one thing:  regardless of which side of the issue they are on, the residents of Dryden love our town, want clean air and water and want to live in a safe community.  I urge you to take the needs and interests of ALL Dryden residents into consideration and vote “NO” on the amendment to Article XXI.  Then, the Board should work with the DEC and all area residents to provide for the safe operation of natural gas drilling in the Town of Dryden.  Allow us to take advantage of this transforming opportunity.


Ron Szymanski


No, not Paris vs. London, but Keystone State vs. Empire State.  In the Wall Street Journal:

A Tale of Two Shale States

Pennsylvania's gain vs. New York's missed opportunity.

Politicians wringing their hands over how to create more jobs might study the shale boom along the New York and Pennsylvania border. It's a case study in one state embracing economic opportunity, while the other has let environmental politics trump development...

[....] The [PA] state Department of Labor and Industry reports that Marcellus drilling has created 72,000 jobs between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011. The average wage for jobs in core Marcellus shale industries is about $73,000, or some $27,000 more than the average for all industries.

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue says drillers have paid more than $1 billion in state taxes since 2006—and the numbers are swelling...

The revenue department also identified some $214 million in personal income taxes paid since 2006 that can be attributed to Marcellus shale lease payments to individuals, royalty income and asset sales. And all of this with no evidence of significant environmental harm.


Then there's New York.

[....] Consider New York's Broome County, which borders Pennsylvania and from which you can spot nearby rigs. The county seat of Binghamton ought to be a hub for shale commerce, but instead its population is falling as its young people leave for jobs elsewhere...

Read the whole thing.


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