An anti-fossil fuel movement proponent dubiously claimed Tuesday natural gas development’s methane emissions are hitting catastrophic levels.
Activist are failing to impress upon people the dangers associated with the fracking industry, according to Vermont’s Middlebury College Professor Bill McKibben. He also suggested most research shows methane emissions from natural gas is pitching above a safe level, yet many studies show the antithesis.
“When I think about my greatest failing as a communicator — and one of the greatest failings of the climate movement — it’s not that global warming still continues,” McKibben wrote Wednesday for Yale Environment 360. The movement’s biggest moral failing, he said, was not selling people on the danger unchecked methane emissions pose to the climate.
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Democrats, Republicans and the public have generally accepted the idea natural gas is a fine alternative to other forms of fossil fuel production, but the general population is unaware methane emissions from such energy put the climate in a precarious spot, McKibben added.
“It turns out that there are lots of places for leaks to happen — when you frack a field, when you connect a pipe, when you send gas thousands of miles through pumping stations — and so most studies show that the leakage rate is at least three percent and probably higher,” he noted without citing any specific study buttressing his claim.
McKibben relied on data from Cornell University Ecology Professor Bob Howarth’s studies to conclude methane emission leakage rates were nearly three percent, he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Howarth’s work has been criticized in the past for using too short a time frame. He uses a 20-year window to study the global warming potential of methane emissions in the atmosphere as opposed to the more common 100-year horizon.
Environmental groups have also scrutinized Howard’s work. “While I can see an argument for using a time horizon shorter than 100 years, I personally believe that the 20-year GWP is too short a period to be appropriate for policy analysis,” former National Resources Defense Council director Dan Lashof said in 2011 of McKibben’s chronological methodology.
Environmental Protection Agency research and other studies, meanwhile, paint a much different story.
Actual emissions from gas power plants were “nearly 50 times lower than previously estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency,” a 2013 University of Texas study availed. Researchers at UT concluded methane emissions from the supply chain’s upstream portion are 0.38 percent of production.
EPA’s latest methane emissions data from 2017 show very low methane leakage rates of approximately 1.2 percent. The agency and UT’s data and research were concluded, using the more reliable 100-year time frame. McKibben has spent several years thrashing Democratic leaders for promoting the natural gas industry.
McKibben was singing a different tune in 2009, when he felt so strongly about power plants switching to natural gas he was willing to be jailed in support of the cause. He was one of several celebrities who protested on Capitol Power Plant’s front steps in Washington, D.C.
“There are moments in a nation’s — and a planet’s — history when it may be necessary for some to break the law … We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested,” McKibben told reporters prior to the March 3, 2009, protest.
“[I]t would be easy enough to fix. In fact, the facility can already burn some natural gas instead, and a modest retrofit would let it convert away from coal entirely. … It would even stimulate the local economy,” he added.
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