Today, the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources released a study funded by the Environmental Defense Fund and the natural gas industry that stated two things: that the sample size it looked at is "not sufficient" to fully understand the methane pollution from fracking, and that the rates of methane pollution from this sample size are nonetheless 10 to 20 times lower than those calculated from more complete measurements in other peer reviewed studies. This discrepancy may be attributable to the fact that industry chose the locations and times of the wells that were studied.
At best this study will be considered an interesting outlier that calls for further research. At worst, it will be used as PR by the natural gas industry to promote their pollution. In fact, methane is 105 times more powerful than carbon pollution as a global warming pollutant, so figuring out its real climate impacts has very real consequences for us going forward.
Methane pollution from fracking is a serious and growing threat to global climate stability, which is why we welcome peer-reviewed studies that examine the climate impact of fracking. Unfortunately, these results seem so far from the results of other studies that the scientific watchdog group Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy has called this study "fatally flawed."
Here's the science: A recent study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that wells in the Uintah basin of Utah leaked 60 tons of methane per hour, and studies from Cornell University have found dangerously large methane pollution rates from fracking, showing that gas is not a viable "bridge fuel," and in fact could be worse for the climate than emissions from coal fired power plants.
In this EDF and industry funded study, only 190 well sites were measured out of the over 25,000 wells drilled in the last year alone. As the paper acknowledges, this sample size is "not sufficient" for measuring methane pollution from fracking at a national scale.
So what does this study tell us? Mainly, that we need more peer-reviewed studies that look more seriously into methane pollution from fracking nationwide, not just studies from the industry's best-bet wells.
There's been even more controversy on the people behind this study. Among others, Steve Horn at De-Smog Blog has long been skeptical of EDF's position in the industry studies, and he has a studious critique of this study's funding.
The fossil fuel industry desperately wants to get us hooked to its latest product before we have time to adequately study it. They know that renewable energy technology is here now and ready to be implemented, but they're hoping consumers won't notice, or have the courage to make the switch to the real Energy Revolution that can carry us fully into the future.