Experts Report Fracking Study Is Fatally Flawed

Reflecting clear biases and cherry picking of information, fracking study is "industry garbage in, industry garbage out" that does not hold up to close review.

| June 18, 2012

natural gas

Slightly more than half of the homes in the United States use natural gas as their main heating fuel.


The following article is posted with permission from Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy.

The nonprofit Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) today issued the following joint statement by Profs. Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, and research technician Renee Santoro of Cornell University: “We have analyzed the widely publicized report from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) which asserts that methane emissions from the natural gas sector are 50 percent lower than US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates.

The study relies on a critically flawed survey design, completely ignores many other recent studies, and would not have passed peer-review in a scientific journal. In contrast to this API/ANGA report, a recent and objective study which measured the entire rate of methane emissions from an unconventional gas field, the first of what should become one of many such studies, demonstrated emissions that were higher than EPA estimates (Petron et al. 2012).

Fatally Flawed Survey Design

At its core, the API/ANGA study is based on a biased survey. Twenty oil and gas corporations provided answers to questions on the details of the procedures they use to develop and maintain gas wells. Amazingly, the survey in effect coached those being questioned, indicating what answers were sought. The cover-page instructions stated that the purpose of the survey was to evaluate EPA emission estimates. The survey then gave the EPA emission estimates so that respondents could gauge their answers. Given the huge economic interest of industry in projecting low methane emissions, a valid study would have taken steps to detect and counter-act potential bias, not blatantly encourage it.

Further, to be valid, a survey must be based on random and representative sampling, but there is no evidence that such an approach was followed. This is an elementary statistical error and the study would not have passed peer review had this report been submitted to a rigorous scientific journal. Only a small proportion of the wells included in the report were shale-gas wells using the current technology of high volume, slick-water, horizontal hydraulic fracturing of multiple long horizontal well legs.

Cherry Picking of Information 

Beyond the biased and non-random sampling of the API/ANGA study, the report is highly selective in the information used. Many times information is ignored, generally resulting in underestimated methane emissions. For example, the report cites data for the rate of completed wells drilled in 2010, indicating completion rates greater than those used by EPA, but then failed to use this higher rate in their emissions accounting. Had they used these higher completion rates, API/ANGA would have estimated a 64 percent greater rate of methane emissions at completion than EPA has estimated.

8/18/2012 4:37:35 PM

Remember that every time a new gas-fired boiler comes on line, another coal-fired plant either comes off-line or is not built.

8/18/2012 11:46:45 AM

Has anyone attempted to estimate the amount of fugitive methane emitted by coal mining operations? As bad as fracking gas emissions might be, I find it hard to believe that it is worse than emissions from coal mining. Compared to so-called "clean coal" fracking gas is still my choice. It might be safer to mine coal after it is fracked, capture and remove the gas and sell it, not waste it. And the coal would be a little bit cleaner, but not much. No one in his right mind would go down in a coal mine that is not well ventilated. The risk of a GAS explosion is too great. Coal miners vent the natural gas to the atmosphere ON PURPOSE!

8/18/2012 11:32:53 AM

Good point. Even-handed.

t brandt
6/30/2012 3:07:34 PM

This article itself is "fatally flawed", mistakenly confusing total emissions with rates of emissions and providing absolutely no evidence that emissions are in in anyway harmful to anybody. While we may be justified in holding suspect any study conducted by the industry itself, it is not necessarily a given that the study is inaccurate. The scientific method always calls for verification by further studies. While they criticize the studies as not being peer reviewed, should we point out tha their study is not peer reviewed either?

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