Sunday, September 4, 2011

Professors Fight Over Fracking Impact

August 31, 2011
By Dennis Liu

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University released a study earlier this month on greenhouse gas emissions produced from hydraulic fracturing. The study challenges a similar study published by Cornell in May.

The study by Carnegie Mellon estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas is lower than emissions from coal burning by between 20 to 50 percent. The previous Cornell study said greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas were greater than coal emissions by 20 percent.

The new findings have energized the ongoing debate over the extraction of natural gas from wells underneath New York State through the controversial method known as “hydrofracking” — a technique where a chemical mixture is pumped into shale rock underneath the ground at high pressure to break apart rocks and release natural gas.

One of the authors of the Cornell study, Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and environmental biology, explained the contradicting conclusions of the two studies by bringing attention to Carnegie Mellon’s use of data, which he called “internally inconsistent and poorly documented.”

Cornell’s study, conducted by Howarth, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, civil and environmental engineering, and Renee Santoro, a research technician in ecology and evolutionary biology, has previously been used as a scientific reference for advocates against hydrofracking.

Their research determined that the shale gas released through hydrofracking generated life greenhouse gas emissions that were “at least 20 percent greater” than that of burning coal. This meant that using natural gas as a source of energy was “dirtier” than coal in respect to its environmental impact.

According to a University spokesperson, Carnegie Mellon’s research will in no way affect Cornell’s current ban against hydrofracking on its land, a policy that has been in place since 2010.

One significant difference in the Carnegie Mellon study was...

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