Last April, the Times ran two articles in a week heavily promoting Howarth’s bizarre claim that shale gas generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the production and use of coal. It would be difficult to overstate the influence of this paper, which ricocheted through the media echo chamber and was even debated in the British parliament and the European Union.FWIW, I met Howarth a few times at National meetings. To the best of my recollection, he's best known for his hypothesis that nitrogen fixation in the sea is controlled by the ration of molybdate to sulfate, through a competitive mechanism, where sulfate crowds molybdate out of important enzymes necessary for nitrogen fixation. Interesting to know, but nothing you can manipulate on a global scale one way or another. I don't know how he got from there the fracking...
When the Times didn’t report then, and until now has almost systematically ignored, is that almost every independent researcher — at the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Energy Department and numerous independent university teams, including a Carnegie Mellon study partly financed by the Sierra Club — has slammed Howarth’s conclusions. Within the field, Howarth is considered an activist, not an independent scientist. But you’d never know that reading the Times’ fracking coverage, with independent lefty columnist Joe Nocera as the notable, and refreshing, exception.
Maybe a little fresh air is finally leaking into the Times insular chambers. Calling Cathles’ report a “fresh rebuttal” of Howarth’s much-maligned study, Dot Earth’s Andrew Revkin cites the latest researcher to diss Howarth’s shaky science by a colleague at Cornell, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences professor Lawrence Cathles, who is an expert in this field, unlike Howarth.
Cathles convincingly demolishes Howarth’s four major claims, two of which we’ll highlight here:
- Howarth et al. claimed that shale gas wells are virtual methane sieves. But as Cathles shows, Howarth appears to have deliberately used 2007 data, a century ago by shale gas technology standards. He’s off by 10-20 times—at least.
- Howarth claimed that emissions during well completions are far greater than for other gas wells. Among other things, Howarth used decades old data from the Soviet Union to make this bogus case.