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Archive for April 11th, 2011

A new study from Cornell Professor Robert Howarth shows that natural gas from shale beds extracted through hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” has the same effect on the climate as burning coal, tarnishing one of the natural gas industry’s major claims of being a less polluting and more climate friendly fossil fuel.

A megawatt of electricity from a natural gas power plant will generally produce anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of the greenhouse gas emissions, specifically CO2, compared to a megawatt from a coal plant.  And since coal plants have rightfully been targeted as the biggest climate polluters the natural gas folks have been positioning themselves as the cheaper, cleaner alternative.

Not so fast, since methane, the main component of natural gas, is also a greenhouse gas that the EPA rates as having 20 times the heat-trapping capacity of CO2.  Since so much methane is released into the atmosphere during the fracking and drilling process, Howarth’s study questions that assumption, implying the climate benefits are minimal, if they even exist.  From The Hill:

More broadly, many gas supporters see domestic reserves as a “bridge” fuel while alternative energy sources are brought into wider use.

Howarth’s study questions this idea.

“The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming,” the study states.

But [natural gas industry spokesmen] also note that gas has other advantages over coal as an energy source, due to its lower emissions of conventional pollutants including nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

The study cautions that the research is not meant to justify continued use of oil and coal, but rather to show that using shale gas as a substitute might not provide the desired checks on global warming.

Howarth and Cornell engineering Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, who also worked on the study, acknowledged uncertainties in the nexus between shale gas and global warming in a presentation last month.

“We do not intend for you to accept what we reported on today as the definitive scientific study with regard to this question. It is clearly not. We have pointed out as many times as we could that we are basing this study on in some cases questionable data,” Ingraffea said at a mid-March seminar, which is available for viewing on Howarth’s website.

“What we are hoping to do by this study is to stimulate the science that should have been done before, in my opinion, corporate business plans superceded national energy strategy,” he added.

This is an incredibly important discussion to have, especially given the impacts that fracking is having on our air, water, health, and our state budget.

UPDATE: The Texas Energy Report got some good response from around the Capitol and we couldn’t help include it:

“Sounds like the coal industry may have funded it,” joked Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), author of Senate Bill 15, which would create a 20-year energy and environmental policy council for Texas.

“The direction they’re going is exactly opposite of what we hear that natural gas is cleaner with less greenhouse emissions. We’ve always worked under that premise,” said Fraser who is also chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

***“I would like to see it. I don’t know what they’re drawing their conclusions on. I would say it’s interesting – significant I don’t know,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee.  “We’ll have to take a look at it. I’m sure there’ll be another side.”

Keffer is the author of a bill to require oil and gas companies drilling for shale gas to disclose the contents of chemicals they inject into the ground with water and sand during fracking. Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water into the ground to fracture rock formations and release gas.

The Environmental Defense Fund of Texas, which has embraced Keffer’s bill as the most significant fracking disclosure measure in the nation, said more work is needed to determine the air quality implications of fracking.

“Though we have questions about the study’s emissions estimates, it nevertheless highlights the importance of getting better data,” said Ramon Alvarez of the EDF.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Could your trip down to the neighborhood meat market, or your favorite burger joint be contributing to the demise of the Amazon rainforest?  Cattle ranching in Brazil is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. This is old news though.  Cattle ranching has been the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest since the 70s.  The cattle industry in Brazil is responsible for 80% of the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon region to be exact.  This means that the ever growing cattle sector in Brazil is also a huge contributor to the greenhouse effect.  According to Greenpeace, statistics show that 2.5 acres of the rainforest is destroyed every 18 seconds.  To compound the situation, the number of cattle in Brazil has nearly doubled since 1990.  Back in the 90s, Brazil only produced enough beef to feed its own population.  Today, the cattle production industry, located in the heart of the Amazon on a territory known as Mato Grosso, has increased by at least 50 billion.  Here in Mato Grosso, pasturelands have been cleared for cattle grazing the size of Portugal!

Pie chart of deforestation in the Amazon

Recently, Brazil has also just earned itself the title of largest beef exporter in the world, exporting everywhere from Hong Kong, the European Union, and even to the United States (primarily fast food restaurants).  According to the Center for International Forestry Research, ‘between 1990 and 2001 the percentage of Europe’s processed meat imports that came from Brazil rose from 40-75 percent’ and by 2003 for the first time ever, ‘the growth in Brazilian cattle production—80% of which was in the Amazon—was largely export driven.’

The United States has recently been in dispute with Brazil over the cotton production industry, and (thank heavens!) placed a ban on the import of Brazilian beef…but hold on folks:  that ban is set to expire at the end of this year.  Another important note to consider: this ban on Brazilian beef imports is not a complete ban, in fact, many restaurants and other fine dining businesses in the US continue to partake in the destruction of the Amazon.  The ban only pertains to grocery stores, and is currently in debate as to whether or not it will be lifted.  The ban depends upon the dispute over cotton production industry between the two countries.  The ban was originally instated in the US due to the high levels of foot and mouth disease prominent in Brazilian beef. (more…)

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The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds you that it does not shut down as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.

Off the Kuff discusses the bet the Republicans have made about how the voters will react to deep cuts to public education.

At TexasKaos, Lightseeker warns Don’t Buy Into the Lie – Help Spread the Truth About the Fiscal Mess! Updated with video! Check it out – be part of the solution, not part of the problem…

From Bay Area Houston: Unlike the gop who believes the solution to teen pregnancy is duct tape and a $50,000 speaking engagement by Bristol Palin, PP actually provides education services, family planning services, and low cost birth control.

Barack Obama asked the question “Are You In?” last week, and PDiddie at Brains and Eggs decided he wasn’t.

Texas has a revenue problem that’s so bad even the GOP is starting to realize it. WCNews at Eye On Williamson posted about that this week, Texas GOP tax talk getting louder.

The Texas Cloverleaf looks at the potential, and potentially wacky, new districts in which Denton County might end up.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes that republicans want to stop you from voting, kill public education and control women’s uteri. Did you see anything about creating jobs, except for the special uterus police?

Neil at Texas Liberal noted that while it is great for Houston Mayor Annise Parker that she raised $1 million for her reelection campaign in a single night, this fact is much less relevance to a public that finds little to care about in a Houston city politics that is nearly devoid of grassroots enthusiasms.

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