Thursday, June 14, 2012

Margaret Wente’s noxious gases

This is getting tiresome.

Cheerleading for shale gas 'fracking' today, Margaret Wente spews a number of falsehoods.  For starters: “the U.S. appears to be the only major emitter that's actually reducing emissions. Since 2006, U.S. emissions have fallen by 7.7 per cent, according to the International Energy Agency – despite the absence of a global carbon treaty, or stiff new regulations, or a cap-and-trade regime”. 

The “only major emitter” reducing emissions? 

Well, no.  That’s not what the International Energy Agency says: “CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 Mt, or 1.7%...CO2 emissions in the EU in 2011 were lower by 69 Mt, or 1.9%.” 

As for longer term comparables, in October 2010, the Guardian reports, The European Environment Agency reported that by the end of last year emissions produced by the current 27 member countries have fallen by more than 17% since 1990, putting them "well on track" to meet the target to meet the EU's own pledge of a 20% reduction by 2020 . The original 15 EU member states who signed Kyoto have dropped their emissions by 6%, giving them "a headstart to reach and even over-achieve" their target under the treaty of an 8% reduction. Emissions from the current 27 member countries have fallen by more than 17% since 1990, putting them "well on track" to meet the target to meet the EU's own pledge of a 20% reduction by the same date…”.

Wente: “You'd think that environmental groups would rejoice at this great news. Instead, they've gone to war. The main reason for the fall in greenhouse gasses is a new technology known as hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), which they claim is a menace to the planet”.

Wrong.  The International Energy Agency in fact says that the U.S. move away from coal is just one of several reasons for the small decrease.  Others are exceptionally mild winter weather, the economic downturn and energy efficiencies (no doubt in response to “stiff new regulations” Wente claims played no role). According to them, the most recent reduction is
"primarily due to ongoing switching from coal to natural gas in power generation and an exceptionally mild winter, which reduced the demand for space heating”.  The longer term (since 2006) reduction, “has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector (linked to efficiency improvements, higher oil prices and the economic downturn which has cut vehicle miles travelled) and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.  They do not claim that fracking or shale gas is the “main reason” for the reduction, as Wente maintains.

And then Wente says this:  “Fracking promises to unlock vast new reserves of shale gas, which emits roughly half as much CO2 as coal, and 30 per cent less than conventional oil”.

Wrong again.  While conventional natural gas “emits roughly half as much CO2 as coal, and 30 per cent less than conventional oil”, this is not true of shale, which comes with a much higher methane component.

The New York Times cites studies that "suggest that the rush to develop the nation’s vast, unconventional sources of natural gas is logistically impractical and likely to do more to heat up the planet than mining and burning coal.  The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines".

And a report from Cornell University notes these problems with shale:

Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the life-time of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas…Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide, particularly over the time horizon of the first few decades following emission. Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon. The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years…

In addition, a report in the New York Times indicates that the shale gas boom is likely to go bust, just like Enron – with consequences not just for the economy, but the environment.

Wente’s nonsense appears to be original this time, rather than the borrowing so often seen in the past (here, or just browse the archive for many other examples), but her breathtaking NIMBYism is worth a final mention.  

Content to argue for “more and faster” when it comes to someone else’s water contamination, Wente was recently fiercely protective of her own little bit of paradise – a country house she maintains to provide picturesque relief from the monotony of her upscale Toronto condo (whose kitchen appliances alone, she brags repeatedly, cost more than an earlier house).  Madame Wente’s country estate must be kept free of all intrusions or development – no gravel pits, limestone quarries or wind turbines nearby to disturb the weekend tranquility or decrease property value.  But for the rest of the country folk - the ordinary people who actually have to live year round on land whose well water may be affected – well, says Lady Margaret, let them drink flaming water with their cake.  

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