Friday, November 11, 2011

New Cornell Study Destroys Howarth Junk Science Gas Paper

Climatic Change Letters will publish shortly a new paper from 3 professors at Cornell University that destroys the Howarth and Ingrafea paper that triggered false global headlines that gas was as dirty as coal. I have obtained a copy of the scorching paper, and a much milder summary of the paper is on the website of the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Its principal author is Lawrence Cathales III of the Cornell Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Other authors are from the same department as well as from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The paper itself is a scientific wrecking ball aimed right at the credibility of Howarth and Ingraffea that is sprinkled with sizzling commentary. For example, the paper itself says: "Switching from coal to natural gas would dramatically reduce the greenhouse impact of electricity generation. Minimizing this point by stressing extreme rather than likely scenarios is perhaps the most misleading aspect of the Howarth et al. analysis."

The Howarth paper is so full of false and misleading pieces that it is indeed difficult to pick its most misleading part. But the new Cornell paper does an excellent job of taking one on a tour of Howarth's malicious betrayal of the climate, the environment, and science.

The Cathales paper concludes that coal emits twice to three times more carbon than gas on a full life cycle analysis from production through combustion. This conclusion is similar to recent studies done by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Maryland, the Worldwatch Institute, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Despite its junk science status, the Howarth paper continues to mislead good people, with Robert Kennedy recently approvingly relying on it and with it being prominently mentioned in a draft letter written by a prominent environmental group fighting drilling in the Delaware River Basin that sought the signatures of Pennsylvania state legislators.

The Howarth paper betrays the climate as surely as the climate denial industry. No environmentalist who cares about global warming or his or her credibility should ever mention it, except with disgust.

Howarth cares so much about banning shale gas that he has gone off the cliff into misinformation and propaganda. He has proven that he will say anything and use any means to advance his rabidly held end. The new Cornell paper ends the scientific credibility of Howarth and Ingraffea.

The questions now become: will all environmentalists shun the Howarth paper? And will the NYT and other media prominently report both on the scorching new Cornell paper when it is published and the present availability of the milder summary?


  1. Gas extraction is dirty. You cannot ignore the thousands and thousands of truck running on diesel fuel. You cannot discount the fumes from the flaring and venting that continue day and night or the emissions from the compressor do you want to talk about spills leaks and violations John????

  2. Gas is not zero impact and nothing is. Its impacts can be reduced or not by strong regulation and excellent operations. But compared to coal that powers your home, unless you have switched to renewables as I have, and the oil that powers nearly every vehicle in the USA, gas is much, much less dirty. Nobody should pretend otherwise.

    I live in the TMI evacuation area. Every single source of energy has considerable risks and impacts. Properly stating the comparative risks and working to reduce the impacts and risks is essential to reasoned thought and decision-making.

  3. You're right Yoko, let's get those trucks running on clean burning American natural gas!

  4. your language is way over the top! Destroy, Junk Science Sorry but as a Scientist your wording is way to inflammatory and sensational.
    The one thing that Howarth has accomplished with his paper is to examine this aspect of methane and to open this area for additional scrutiny.
    Howarth admitted in his own paper that additional data and research was needed in this area. your words do nothing to advance this and only adds to inflame everyone interested and concerned about gas drilling and climate change.

  5. Howarth's study is junk or the word has no meaning. I care deeply about climate and hate to see right wing ideologues use junk science to attack Dr. Mann and others. I also hate to see Howarth from the left damage so horribly crucial understanding about a key fact that impacts hugely climate. I personally had the experience of seeing a lobbyist for the coal industry mentioning in glowing terms the howarth study to convince an audience that coal and gas had the same carbon impact. Disgraceful. The fact is that Coal emits twice the carbon as gas on a life cycle basis. But let's see what Howarth says now that he his study has been shredded by 4 other studies. Does he say he was in error? If so, the language will change. If he however persists in misleading good people, then the language must be equal to his offense. He up to this point has won enormous influence due to the massive publicity the media gave him.

  6. Concerned ScientistNovember 13, 2011 at 8:21 PM


    Do you care about global warming? What Howarth has done essentially is the equivalent of saying "Priuses are worse for the environment than Hummers." Of course the issue is a bit more complicated but in essence gas is to coal as a prius is to a hummer. It is hard enough to do the right thing on global warming. The switch from coal to gas (as well as wind and solar) is one of the few bright spots. For selfish personal reasons, Howarth and others are seeking to confuse the public on this issue. It's reprehensible and he should be counted among the worst "climate disinformers."

  7. Scientists lying to create a political mandate - it is very dangerous. That is where we are.

    The Climate Gate emails depict a small group of scientists who viciously and personally attack other scientists who do not march in lock step with the "so-called" prevailing climate change wisdom. If you mention that the Middle Ages Warming Period did exist - you will be declared a heretic and they will go outside the bounds of decent ethics to block your publications and diminish your career. I was appalled at the lack of scientific debate and the abundance of personal invective in those emails - more akin to a political campaign.

    This Howarth situation reminds me of that. We are losing faith in our scientists - all these studies have ulterior motives and the funding machine must be kept spinning.

    If scientists now lie to continue funding - are they as bad as the corporations who pay scientists to write friendly studies?