Sunday, February 6, 2011

NYRAD Newsletter February 2011

From: NYRAD info
Date: Sun, Feb 6, 2011 at 9:50 PM
Subject: NYRAD Newsletter February 2011

NYRAD Newsletter February 2011

The Broome County Legislature has convened for 2011 with 7 new legislators. The legislature may be looking again at a proposal to lease county land for gas drilling. Does your legislator know what your views are? If not please contact him/her and let your legislator know how YOU feel about the dangers of fracking in Broome County. Contact info available here:

In Chenango County, the
Chenango County Gas Advisory Committee has been working to answer the question, "How can we make it easier for a driller to do business in our area?". Is this what YOU want them to do? These monthly meetings are open to the public, and Chenango County residents are urged to attend. Let the committee members know about your concerns. For more information call Rema Loeb at 607-693-1150.

In Tioga County concern about increased industrial activity near residential areas in Owego continues to mount. A new group called Concerned Citizens of Tioga County has begun meeting to address these issues. For more information write to:

The next NYRAD Meeting is on Monday, February 14 at 7-9 PM at the Unitarian Church on Riverside Drive in Binghamton (next to Lourdes Hospital). We are expecting guests from affected areas in Pennsylvania who will share their experiences with us. All who share NYRAD's goals are welcome.


Events of Interest:

Feb 11 – 13
Snow Flow in the Catskills (map)
Artists, Naturalists and Concerned Citizens come together for a Winter Celebration of Pure Water in the Central Catskills February 11-13, 2011 For an updated list of participating organizations, registration and pricing information and the schedule of events, please visit and for further information, contact Andrea Reynosa at AReynosa@SkyDog or 845-252-3518. SnowFlow is a collaborative event between several organizations interested in creativity, sustainability and organizational awareness.. SnowFlow will be held at the Full Moon Resort. Located within the Catskill State Park and Forest Preserve, this region serves as both the main contributor to the New York City watershed and as the headwaters to the Delaware River, recently declared the "Nation's Most Endangered River." The main initiative for SnowFlow is to bridge water rights activism between the Hudson and Delaware Valleys in relation to natural gas extraction, hydraulic fracturing and peak water. The weekend events will combine outdoor activities, art, music and lively conversations to produce and document a variety of works focused on water in it most crystallized form – Snow!
More Info:

February 14, Monday, 7-9 pm

NYRAD monthly meeting

Community room, Unitarian Universalist Church, 183 Riverside Dr., Binghamton (next to Lourdes Hospital) (map)
We are expecting guests from affected areas in Pennsylvania who will share their experiences with us. We will talk about the ways in which each of us can make a difference - by educating others and by engaging our town, county, and state government representatives. If you have an agenda item you would like to bring up at the meeting, please email Elaine Perkus at with your idea. We look forward to seeing you there!

February 17, Thursday, 7pm
NYPIRG Meet and Greet
University Union Building, Room 102 (just off of the union lobby)

Come out and meet the students and interns at Binghamton University working on hydrofracking.
NYPIRG will be hosting a Meet and Greet for student and community activists to meet each other, network, and share ideas for how they can work together. There will be short presentations by chapter president Briana Hussey and campaign organizer Brendan Woodruff on what NYPIRG is, what they have done on the issue thus far, and what their upcoming plans are. A reception for students and community members to network, share ideas, and plan out future actions will follow.

February 20, Sunday, 2-4pm
Two Scientists Debate the Pros and Cons of Gas Drilling
SUNY Cortland, Brown Auditorium, 9 Main St, Cortland, NY
Professor Anthony R. Ingraffea (Cornell University) and Professor Donald Siegel (Syracuse University) debate the pros and cons of gas drilling
Organized by GDACC (Gas Drilling Awareness for Cortland County)

February 23, Wednesday, 7-9 pm
Gasland Screening
Hubbard Auditorium, 56 Main St, Owego, NY

Q & A after the movie with Chris Burger

March 3, Thursday, 7pm
Fracking 201 with Chris Burger

University Union Building, Room 102 (just off of the union lobby)
The first installment of the Fracking 201 lecture series will feature Chris Burger talking on the effects that hydrofracking will have on outdoors enthusiasts, including hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers, hikers, and anyone else who enjoys being outside. 30 - 45 minute talk followed by Q & A.

March 4, Friday, 6 pm
Art show opening: "Our Priceless Planet"
Binghamton City Hall Gallery, 38 Hawley St, Binghamton, NY
Earth Stewards Coalition II Art Show. "Our Priceless Planet." Opening event.


We have all 3 of these yard signs available NOW.

Call (607) 798-0787 or write to to get one for YOUR yard.

Let your neighbors know that YOU care



Fire chiefs: traffic congestion is delaying emergency response times in Bradford County

NORTH TOWANDA TOWNSHIP - As a result of the increased traffic on roads in the Towanda area, the number of traffic accidents last year on the "Golden Mile" in Wysox Township more than doubled, and the increased traffic congestion is delaying firefighters from getting to the scene of emergencies, two fire chiefs said Tuesday.

The increased number of motor vehicle accidents in the county and the breakdown of gas industry trucks are driving up the number of calls that area fire departments are responding to, North Towanda Fire Chief Terry Sheets said at a summit held Monday on traffic and road issues, which took place at Bradford County's 911 center.

Last year, for example, the North Towanda Fire Department last year responded to 197 calls, up from 134 the year before, Sheets said.

And the Wysox Fire Department responded to over 200 calls last year, whereas it would on average respond to 130 in a year, Sheets said.

"I think every fire department in the county is taxed because of (the need for) manpower and the (delayed) response time because of the traffic," Sheets said.

The summit, which was organized on behalf of the Bradford County commissioners and the Bradford County Department of Emergency Services, was also attended by officials from the state police, the state Department of Transportation, several gas drilling companies, all three Bradford County commissioners, the Troy and Towanda police chiefs, the Wysox fire chief, and representatives from the Bradford County Emergency Services Department and Bradford-Susquehanna EMS Council.

Sheets said firefighters are being delayed as they try to get through congested traffic to their fire stations, where they transfer to fire trucks.

"It's just about impossible to get through" U.S. Route 6 in Wysox Township (the Golden Mile) to get to local fire stations, Sheets said.

"People don't yield to the caution lights" on the firefighters' personal vehicles as they drive to the fire stations, Sheets said.

"It's delaying the response time (to get to emergencies) because people can't get to the station in a timely manner," Sheets said.

The traffic congestion on Route 6 in Wysox Township between the Veterans Memorial Bridge and state Route 187 is so bad that "ninety percent of the time it takes 20 minutes to (drive) those two miles," Wysox Fire Chief Brett Keeney said.

On that two-mile stretch of road, there were 120 motor vehicle accidents last year, up from the approximately 40 to 50 accidents a year that would normally occur on that section of Route 6, Keeney said.

And he said the 120 accidents only represents the ones that the fire department was called out to.

The fire department is not called out to minor accidents, such as rear-end collisions where no one is hurt and the vehicles involved can pull off the road, Keeney said.

Keeney estimated that, in total, there are now over 200 accidents a year reported through 911 on that two-mile stretch of Route 6.

Bradford County Public Safety Director Gary Wilcox has said that the advent of the gas industry has resulted in a lot more vehicles on the roads in Bradford County. And with more vehicles on the road, there is an increased likelihood of accidents, he said.

Sheets said another problem is that firefighters "are being called out constantly for trucks being broken down."

"We spend two, three, four hours doing traffic control for disabled, broken-down vehicles in the road," Sheets said.

"Our people have lives, too," Sheets said. "We're being burdened to take care (of this)."

Still another problem is that firefighters are being called out because traffic on local roads is being impeded due to trucks that have run out of fuel.

He said the problem is that the companies that own the trucks will only allow them to refuel once a night.

The trucks "can sit there for two hours" while they wait for another truck to arrive on scene to refuel it.

But state police Cpl. Roger Stipcak said that the state police could order the trucks towed immediately to clear the roadway, so that firefighters wouldn't have to wait for the refueling truck to arrive.

Bradford County Commissioner John Sullivan said he was concerned about the increased call volume that fire departments are experiencing because it is a burden for the volunteers in the fire departments.

Eventually, he said, there are going to be volunteers who quit because they need to spend more time with their families or on their jobs, he said.

"Whatever we can do to ease that callout volume is something we want to look at," Sullivan said.

Read more at:

How many water supplies have been impacted by gas drilling? Pa. doesn't keep count

By Laura Legere (Staff Writer)
Published: November 14, 2010

Strengthened oil and gas regulations to be considered by a state review board this week will help answer an increasingly urgent question in the era of Marcellus Shale exploration: how many water supplies have been impacted by drilling activities?

Right now, no one is keeping a complete count.

The Oil and Gas Act does not require drillers to notify state regulators when landowners alert them that drinking water has been harmed by the companies' operations.

Under current law, the Department of Environmental Protection must look into cases of potential drinking water pollution only when it is asked to investigate a problem by a landowner.

The department also does not track how often gas drillers voluntarily replace drinking water supplies, either temporarily or permanently.

"Often, homeowners and drillers work out agreements without needing the department's assistance," DEP spokesman Tom Rathbun said. "We get involved when we are notified of a problem, but we are not made aware of every case."

A revised Oil and Gas Act will change that. When the new regulations go into effect, likely in January if they pass all reviews, drillers will have to notify the department within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

An earlier draft of the revisions, which gave drillers 10 days to notify the department of a complaint, was changed after commentators on the regulations argued that was not quick enough.

The change from no notification to nearly instantaneous notification signals an increasing awareness of how often drinking water complaints go uncounted at a time when everyone from farmers to the federal government is looking for more complete information on the short- and long-term impacts of gas drilling on water resources.

Without the mandatory disclosure, critics say, voluntary arrangements can take advantage of the fact that there are disincentives for landowners to ask DEP to intervene: People may feel intimidated about pushing their complaints or fear causing any disruption to the gas companies that pay them royalties.

On some occasions, gas companies, even when working side-by-side with regulators to address water complaints, have made clear efforts to keep voluntary water replacement arrangements out of the public eye.

How many problems?

There is a clear gap between the relatively small number of state orders for drillers to provide homes with replacement water and the visible proliferation of water tanks (called buffaloes), well vents, new wells, treatment systems and bottled water being delivered or installed in gas-drilling regions.

After a records search in June 2009, DEP reported there had been fewer than 80 cases of groundwater contamination caused by oil and gas drilling in the state in more than 15 years, as measured by the number of official orders the agency sent to drillers to permanently restore or replace damaged water supplies.

With 32,000 oil and gas wells drilled within that time span, that amounts to a .25 percent incident rate - a track record the industry frequently touts.

But unofficial counts put the number of disturbed water supplies much higher.

Daniel Farnham, an environmental engineer who has tested more than 2,000 water wells in Northeast and Northcentral Pennsylvania where Marcellus Shale drilling is under way, estimates as many as 50 homes in Bradford County alone are currently getting replacement water supplies provided by gas companies.

In Susquehanna County, Dimock Twp. offers a vivid example of the gap between the officially determined size of the problem and the true number of drinking water supplies that have been replaced.

DEP has ordered Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. to replace 18 water supplies - connected to 19 homes - that were tainted with methane the agency traced to faulty Cabot Marcellus Shale gas wells, a claim the company refutes.

But according to Cabot documentation provided to the department as part of the order, at least 36 Dimock residences have at some point had water supplies replaced or remediated by Cabot at least temporarily.

At the time Cabot provided DEP with its water replacement list, in June, the company had drilled 89 natural gas wells in and around Dimock - meaning Cabot remedied or replaced a water supply, on average, for more than one in every three gas wells it drilled.

Cabot spokesman George Stark said the numbers reflect Cabot's policy of investigating all water supply complaints and "when we see the immediate need" providing replacement water during an investigation. Some complaints may turn out to be unfounded, unrelated to gas drilling, or temporary disruptions that clear up on their own, he said.

Cabot, the most active driller in Susquehanna County, has removed nine homes from the list of 36 receiving water, Mr. Stark said. The company drilled one replacement water well and reconditioned three others. Five homes accepted filtration systems that are in the process of being installed.

Chesapeake Energy, the most active driller in Bradford County, did not answer a request to disclose the number of water supplies it has replaced or remediated.

"Waiting to blow me up"

Most drillers and many landowners say voluntary arrangements for solving residential water problems are amicable, even generous.

Gary Lopez, a Dimock resident, wrote grateful letters to area newspapers thanking Cabot "for solving my water problems" by first delivering replacement water then drilling a new well after his old well "tested high for methane and barium."

In the worst cases, though, homeowners have found gas company representatives bullying even as they appear to be helping to fix the problem.

Sherry Vargson noticed her faucets began to sputter and blow what seemed like air after Chesapeake Energy performed what workers told her was a maintenance procedure on the gas wells yards from her Granville Summit home in June.

A company contractor tested the head space in her water well and found elevated levels of methane. DEP tests a month later found the flammable gas present in her water supply at 56.3 mg/L - twice the level at which water can no longer hold the gas and releases it into the atmosphere or enclosed spaces, creating a risk of explosion.

Because pre-drilling water tests "did not find the presence of the methane gas," DEP found that the tests indicated that gas well drilling caused the change in the water supply.

Chesapeake has provided the Vargsons with bottled water since the day in June when the company detected the gas, but despite DEP recommendations that the company install a vent stack on the well to help keep the gas from concentrating, the well is still not vented.

Instead, Chesapeake presented Mrs. Vargson with an agreement in July which required the family to release the company from all claims and liabilities related to the water up until that date in exchange for installing a vent "as a precautionary measure."

The agreement, which the Vargsons refused to sign in its original form, also included a non-disclosure clause meant to bar the family from discussing the agreement, its terms or Chesapeake's role in providing a vent.

In a statement, Chesapeake's senior director for corporate development, Brian Grove, said the company does not believe its activities affected the Vargson water well, which he said was "equipped with a venting cap predating our operations" because of "pre-existing methane." The company's pre- and post-drilling water tests show the water "virtually unchanged," he said - a position at odds with DEP findings reported Sept. 2.

Whenever a question is raised about any water supply, Mr. Grove said, the company "routinely provides a temporary replacement source of water as a courtesy and notifies the DEP immediately while we begin to investigate" - a process that "most often" finds that the problem is not related to drilling activity, he added.

The purpose of the legal agreements is to grant the company permission "to access the property and provide needed equipment or services" in cases where a lot of activity will be required in or near a home.

"Confidentiality clauses are common in these and many other types of agreements," he said.

Mrs. Vargson, who now sleeps with three windows open, is frustrated that the DEP has not enforced its finding linking gas drilling to her water problems, which she is not afraid to discuss.

Last week, she held a match to the sputtering water running from her kitchen faucet and a flame ran up the stream to the spout.

"All of that is aerating in here," she said, "pocketing in the house, waiting to blow me up."

About 20 miles across Bradford County, near Spring Lake, two Chesapeake-provided water buffaloes sit in the yard behind the more than 100-year-old farmhouse owned by Jacqueline Place.

On April 1, nearly two weeks after the water to Ms. Place's home turned cloudy then dark brown and her sister's cows refused to drink it, a DEP inspector and Chesapeake contractors came to test the water. Chesapeake disconnected the well, filled the water buffaloes and plumbed them into the home - a project that took hours.

At around 10 p.m., the last Chesapeake contractor handed Ms. Place a document and told her he would not flip the switch on the system he had just installed unless she signed it. According to her sister, Roslyn Bohlander, the contractor told Ms. Place the document was "nothing" important and, when pressed, told her it was a nondisclosure agreement.

Ms. Place would not acknowledge the document or release it to The Times-Tribune.

"It was such a crisis point," Mrs. Bohlander said. In the previous days, Ms. Place and her son had not used the water to shower, cook or clean dishes or clothes. They took sponge baths, Mrs. Bohlander said, and the cows, "they were just drinking enough to live."

DEP and private tests have since shown elevated levels of methane and metals in the water.

"They did all they had done to make it not be a bad situation," she said, "but then they said you can't have this water."

Mr. Grove said Chesapeake does not believe its operations have affected the water supply and "have not caused any reduction of quality of the water in the well.

"Repeated analyses have not detected any constituents related to natural gas drilling and production," he said.

The company continues to provide replacement water to the Places and Bohlanders, like the Vargsons "as a courtesy," he said, "while we work with the DEP and residents to bring closure to these matters."

Chesapeake has told the family on three occasions, each with between 24 and 48 hours notice, that it planned to take away the buffaloes and stop the water deliveries. DEP officials have told the family they cannot stop Chesapeake from taking the water because they did not order the company to provide the water in the first place, Ms. Place said.

Mrs. Bohlander said the price of a buffalo and frequent water deliveries for the cows and the home is "unaffordable."

"We no longer have a plan B," she said.

Read more:

Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated

by Abrahm Lustgarten
ProPublica, Jan. 25, 2011, 8:34 a.m.

The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency—and a growing understanding of the pollution associated with the full "life cycle" of gas production—is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change.

Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future. But those assumptions are based on emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and don't account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.

The EPA's new analysis doubles its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells, drastically changing the picture of the nation's emissions that the agency painted as recently as April. Calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent. Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

When all these emissions are counted, gas may be as little as 25 percent cleaner than coal, or perhaps even less.

Even accounting for the new analysis, natural gas—which also emits less toxic and particulate pollution—offers a significant environmental advantage. But the narrower the margins get, the weaker the political arguments become and the more power utilities flinch at investing billions to switch to a fuel that may someday lose the government's long-term support.

Understanding exactly how much greenhouse gas pollution comes from drilling is especially important, because the Obama administration has signaled that gas production may be an island of common political ground in its never-ending march toward an energy bill. The administration and Congress are seeking not just a steady, independent supply of energy, but a fast and drastic reduction in the greenhouse gases associated with climate change.

Billions of cubic feet of climate-changing greenhouse gases—roughly the equivalent of the annual emissions from 35 million automobiles—seep from loose pipe valves or are vented intentionally from gas production facilities into the atmosphere each year, according to the EPA. Gas drilling emissions alone account for at least one-fifth of human-caused methane in the world's atmosphere, the World Bank estimates, and as more natural gas is drilled, the EPA expects these emissions to increase dramatically.

When scientists evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions of energy sources over their full lifecycle and incorporate the methane emitted during production, the advantage of natural gas holds true only when it is burned in more modern and efficient plants.

But roughly half of the 1,600 gas-fired power plants in the United States operate at the lowest end of the efficiency spectrum. And even before the EPA sharply revised its data, these plants were only 32 percent cleaner than coal, according to a lifecycle analysis by Paulina Jaramillo, an energy expert and associate professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Now that the EPA has doubled its emissions estimates, the advantages are slimmer still. Based on the new numbers, the median gas-powered plant in the United States is just 40 percent cleaner than coal, according to calculations ProPublica made based on Jaramillo's formulas. Those 800 inefficient plants offer only a 25 percent improvement.

Other scientists say the pollution gap between gas and coal could shrink even more. That's in part because the primary pollutant from natural gas, methane, is far more potent than other greenhouse gases, and scientists are still trying to understand its effect on the climate—and because it continues to be difficult to measure exactly how much methane is being emitted.

In November the EPA announced new greenhouse gas reporting rules for the oil and gas industry. For the first time under the Clean Air Act, the nation's guiding air quality law, thousands of small facilities will have to be counted in the pollution reporting inventory, a change that might also lead to higher measurements.

The natural gas industry, in the meantime, has pressed hard for subsidies and guarantees that would establish gas as an indispensible source of American energy and create a market for the vast new gas reserves discovered in recent years. The industry would like to see new power plants built to run on gas, automobile infrastructure developed to support gas vehicles and a slew of other ambitious plans that would commit the United States to a reliance on gas for decades to come.

But if it turns out that natural gas offers a more modest improvement over coal and oil, as the new EPA data begin to suggest, then billions of dollars of taxpayer and industry investment in new infrastructure, drilling and planning could be spent for limited gain.

"The problem is you build a gas plant for 40 years. That's a long bridge," said James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the nation's largest power companies. Duke generates more than half of its electricity from coal, but Rogers has also been a vocal proponent of cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Rogers worries that a blind jump to gas could leave the country dependent on yet another fossil resource, without stemming the rate of climate change.

"What if, with revelations around methane emissions, it turns out to be only a 10 or 20 percent reduction of carbon from coal? If that's true," he said, "gas is not the panacea."

The American Petroleum Institute said in an e-mailed response that federal offshore drilling rules are already cutting down on the emissions tallied by the government. Spokesmen for the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the natural gas lobbying groups Energy in Depth, American Clean Skies Foundation and America's Natural Gas Alliance, which have all been pushing to expand the use of gas, declined to comment on the EPA's new figures and what they mean for the comparison between gas and coal.

But industry groups point out that gas looks attractive compared to the alternatives.

Nuclear energy is less polluting than gas from a climate-changing perspective, but it is costly and viewed skeptically in the United States because of the dangers of disposing of radioactive waste. So-called "clean coal"—including underground carbon sequestration—could work, but the technology has repeatedly stalled, remains unproven, and is at least 15 years away. Renewable sources like wind and solar are being developed rapidly, but the energy is expensive and won't provide a commanding supply of electricity for decades.

Gas, on the other hand, is plentiful, accessible and local.

Methane Is a Potent Climate Gas

Measuring the amount of natural gas that is leaking during drilling is one challenge. Getting a grip on how that gas—which is mostly methane—affects the environment, and what effect it will have on global warming, is another. And on that, some scientists still disagree.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, as well as methane, propane and lesser-known gases that also affect climate change. For the purposes of standardization, all these gases are described together using the unit Co2e, or carbon dioxide "equivalent." But because each gas has a different potency, or "warming" effect on the atmosphere, a factor is applied to convert it to an equivalent of carbon dioxide.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas and among the more potent greenhouse gases, has far more of an effect on climate change than carbon dioxide. But determining the factor that should be applied to measure its relative warming affect is still being debated.

To crunch its numbers, the EPA calculated the average concentration of methane in the atmosphere over a 100-year period and determined that over that period methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using that equation, a ton of methane emissions is the equivalent of 21 tons of carbon dioxide.

But some scientists argue that the impact of methane gas should be calculated over a shorter time period, because methane degrades quickly, and because gas drilling releases large quantities of methane into the atmosphere all at once, likely concentrating and amplifying the effect.

Robert Howarth, an environmental biology professor at Cornell University, used research from the United Nations to calculate that if methane's potency were considered over 20 years rather than 100 years, it would be 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in terms of its warming potential.

Figured that way, the climate effect of methane from natural gas would quickly outpace the climate effect of carbon dioxide from burning coal. Howarth's research is incomplete and has been criticized because at first he failed to figure in methane emissions from coal mining. But he said that after correcting his error, the emissions from coal barely changed, and the data still showed that the intensity of methane could erase the advantages of using natural gas.

"Even small leakages of natural gas to the atmosphere have very large consequences," Howarth wrote in a March memorandum [2], which he says is a precursor to a more thorough study that could begin to scientifically answer these questions. "When the total emissions of greenhouse gases are considered … natural gas and coal from mountaintop removal probably have similar releases, and in fact natural gas may be worse in terms of consequences on global warming."

Howarth says his latest calculations show that the type of shale gas drilling taking place in parts of Texas, New York and Pennsylvania leads to particularly high emissions and would likely be just as dirty as coal.

Environmental groups say factual data on how much methane is emitted from gas fields—and what the warming affect of that methane is—should be locked down before major policy decisions are made to shift the nation toward more reliance on gas.

"You can't just assume away some of these sources as de minimus," said Tom Singer, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council who focuses on emissions reporting in New Mexico. "You need to get a handle on them before you can make a determination."

Less Pollution Means More Profit

The EPA tracks fugitive and vented methane emissions through a program called Natural Gas STAR and then works to get drilling companies to save money by stanching their leaks and selling the gas they capture for profit. It was a discrepancy in the Gas STAR data that prompted the EPA to sharply revise the government's greenhouse gas statistics late last year.

According to Gas STAR's most recent figures, at least 1.6 percent of all the natural gas produced in the United States each year, about 475 billion cubic feet, is assumed to be leaked or vented during production. But those numbers were reported before the EPA adjusted its greenhouse gas estimates, and they are expected to rise when the new estimates are plugged into the calculation. If companies could capture even the gas leaked in Gas STAR's current estimates, it would be worth $2.1 billion a year at today's prices and would cut the nation's emissions by more than 2 percent right off the bat. Several studies show that maintaining and installing equipment to capture the emissions pays for itself within 24 months.

Gas STAR has seen some success in pushing companies to use these capture tools. The EPA's 2010 greenhouse gas inventory, using 2008 data, shows that even though more gas is being produced from more wells, total emissions from that production have decreased by more than 26 percent since 1990, mostly due to the progress of Gas STAR. But while these figures demonstrate that Gas STAR is effective in lowering the annual rate of emissions, the EPA's new figures essentially move the starting point, and, when recalculated, 2008 emissions are now understood to have been 53 percent higher than emissions in 1990.

That doesn't mean the program isn't working—it is. It simply means that the road to making reductions significant enough to affect the rate of climate change is much longer than expected.

The EPA now reports that emissions from conventional hydraulic fracturing are 35 times higher than the agency had previously estimated. It also reports that emissions from the type of hydraulic fracturing being used in the nation's bountiful new shale gas reserves, like the Marcellus, are almost 9,000 times higher than it had previously calculated, a figure that begins to correspond with Robert Howarth's research at Cornell.

Clean Enough to Count On?

Getting a solid estimate of the total lifecycle emissions from natural gas is critical not only to President Obama's­­—and Congress'–decisions about the nation's energy and climate strategy, but also to future planning for the nation's utilities.

Even small changes in the lifecycle emissions figures for gas would eventually affect policy and incentives for the utility industry, and ultimately make a big difference in how gas stacks up against its alternatives.

Rogers, the Duke executive, says the country's large promised reserves of natural gas must also hold up for gas to prove beneficial, in terms of both cost and climate. If domestic reserves turn out to be smaller than predicted, or the nation runs out of gas and turns to liquefied gas imported from overseas, then the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas would be almost equal to coal, Jaramillo pointed out in her 2007 lifecycle analysis, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology [3]. That's because the additional processing and shipping of liquefied gas would put even more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.

"In the 60's we put a needle in one arm—it was called oil," Rogers said. "If the shale gas doesn't play out as predicted, and we build a lot of gas plants in this country, and we don't drill offshore, we're going to be putting the needle in the other arm and it's going to be called gas."

The utilities are in a bind because they have to build new power plants to meet the nation's demand for energy, while anticipating an as-yet-undefined set of federal climate and emissions regulations that they believe are inevitable. Do they build new gas-fired plants, which can cost $2 billion and take three years to bring online? Or do they wait for proven systems that can capture carbon from coal-fired plants and sequester it underground?

If carbon sequestration works, coal-based power emissions could drop by 90 percent, said Nick Akins, president of American Electric Power, the nation's largest electric utility and the number-one emitter of greenhouse gas pollution. That suggests to Akins that natural gas may not be the solution to the nation's energy needs, but rather the transitional fuel that bridges the gap to cleaner technologies.

"Going from a 100 percent CO2 emitter to a 50 percent solution when you could go beyond that is something we need to turn our attention to," said Akins. "If there is a 90 percent solution for coal, and other forms like nuclear, and renewables, then obviously you want to push in that direction as well."

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