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Robert W. Howarth Statement to Senator Avella

Robert W. Howarth Statement to Senator Avella

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Published by: New York State Senate Democratic Conference on Jul 23, 2012
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09/06/2013

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Statement of Robert W. Howarth, Ph.D.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853
Forum held by Senator Avella and Senate DemocratsNew York City
July 18, 2012
My name is Robert Howarth. I am unable to be in New York City today due topressing commitments at Cornell, but I ask that you consider this written statement. Ihold a Ph.D. jointly from the MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I havebeen a tenured faculty member at Cornell University since 1985, and have held anendowed faculty position,
the “
David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology,
” since 1993. I am also the Founding Editor of the journal
Biogeochemistry 
andan adjunct senior research scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole,MA. I have performed research and published scientific papers on environmental riskassessment and the consequences of pollution, including the effects of oil and gasdevelopment, since the mid 1970s. I have previously directed a national EPA Center of Excellence on environmental risk assessment and served as the lead consultant for theState of Alaska on the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I have served on 10 committees and panelsof the US National Academy of Sciences, including one on global change and one on oiland gas pollution, and have chaired two of these committees. I have testified beforethe US House and Senate on many occasions, and I have served as an expert witness infederal court cases on the environmental consequences of oil and gas developmentthree times. Currently, I represent the State of New York on the Science and TechnologyAdvisory Committee of the Chesapeake Bay Program, under appointments fromGovernors Pataki, Patterson, and Cuomo. And I chair the International Council of 
Science’s project on
the environmental consequences of biofuels.I have closely examined the consequences of shale-gas development. Over thepast 3 years, I have published 3 peer-reviewed papers on the environmentalconsequences of shale gas, including an invited piece in the prestigious journal
Nature
,and was the lead author of a background paper for the National Climate Assessmentabout the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas. I have briefed the Administrator of the
US EPA and the President’s Science advisor on this
topic, and I have given invitedtestimony on shale gas before the European Union Parliament and before theCommittee on Oversight and Government Reform of the House of Representatives,Congress of the United States. In December 2011, Time magazine named me as one o
 
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the 50 “people who matter” because of my research on the greenhouse gas
consequences of shale gas.I have repeatedly tried to communicate the results of my research to GovernorCuomo and members of his administration. I was the lead signer among 50 scientistswho wrote to the Governor in 2011 about our concerns with water pollution issues, andwhat we believe to be a misconception by the Governor and his staff on the distinctionbetween the watersheds that serve NY City and the City of Syracuse, and those thatserve the rest of the State (copy attached). Unfortunately, we received no reply. I alsohave testified twice in DEC hearings about deficiencies in both the original and therevised sGEIS for unconventional gas development in New York.Hydraulic fracturing is not new. The process has existed for many decades, usingrelatively small volumes of water, to stimulate gas and oil wells to increase production.What is new is the combination of high-precision, directional drilling with high-volumehydraulic fracturing. This new combination uses many times more water and chemicaladditives for the fracturing, often 5 million gallons or more per well. This is 50 to 100times more fracturing fluid than used to stimulate conventional gas wells. The high-volume hydraulic fracturing combined with directional drilling has allowed theexploitation of gas resources not previously available, such as shale gas. Thiscombination of technologies to obtain shale gas is very new, first used in Texas just overa decade ago. And over half of all the shale gas that has ever been developed in theworld has been produced in the last 3 years.Because the development of shale gas is so new, the science on this process andits environmental consequences is also very new. Almost all peer-reviewed scientificpublications on the environmental and public health consequences of shale gas havebeen published in the past 15 months, since April 2011. Almost none of these wereincluded in the draft sGEIS on shale gas by NY DEC. A list of these papers and theirabstracts can be found on the web site of Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers forHealthy Energy(http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/site/show_list/id/35). In this statement, I will briefly summarize the findings of this new, developing science.
Methane and global warming
: As you site here in the heat of NY City today, know that
the world’s scientists are more convinced than ever that human
activity is causing globalwarming, and that unless society acts urgently, global warming will cause massive
disruption to the world’s food supply, economies, and natural ecosystems. Methane is a
very large part of the problem, and a part that still goes unrecognized by too many ingovernment, including those in the government of New York State.Methane is released to the atmosphere during development, transport, storage,and use of natural gas. Methane is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas, and as a
 
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result of methane emissions, both shale gas and conventional natural gas have largergreenhouse gas footprints than other fossil fuels such as oil and coal (when viewed overan integrated 20-year time frame after emission). Recent climate models point to theurgency in reducing methane emissions: without immediate global reductions inmethane pollution, these models indicate that the Earth will warm to 1.5 degrees Cabove the long-term average within 15 years or so, and to 2 degrees C within 35 to 40years. This is a dangerous level of warming, a level that greatly increases the likelihoodof positive feedbacks in the climate system, leading to an acceleration of furtherwarming. Reducing emissions of methane and other short-lived radiatively activematerials such as black carbon is the best way to reduce this dangerous warming.Currently, almost 40% of all atmospheric methane released by human activity in the UScomes from the natural gas industry. Most studies indicate that shale gas developmentreleases 40% to 60% more methane than does conventional natural gas. To address thehuge threat posed by global warming, I believe it is essential to move as quickly aspossible away from natural gas towards renewable energy resources, and to not furtherdevelop shale gas unless major (and expensive) steps are taken to greatly reducemethane emissions.Unfortunately, the information on global warming in the draft sGEIS reliesheavily on industry web sites for their information, rather than the peer-reviewedliterature or reports from the United Nations. As a result, the draft sGEIS severelyunderestimates the size of the greenhouse gas emissions that could result from shale-gas development. Perhaps this is not suprising, since according to a recent news articleby Bob Boyle, the lead person in charge of the sGEIS, Bradley Field of the
DEC’s Division
of Mineral Sources, does not even believe in human-caused climate change(http://metroland.net/2012/06/29/field-of-distortions/).
Surface water pollution
: Shale gas development has already caused significant surfacewater pollution. The additives used in hydraulic fracturing include toxic andcarcinogenic substances, such as formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, andmonoethanolamine. As importantly, frac fluids extract chemical substances from shales,including toxic and carcinogenic aromatic hydrocarbons, toxic metals, and radioactivematerials such as uranium, thorium, and radium. Some of these materials are releasedto the environment when blowouts and other accidents occur. A greater route of release and exposure comes from disposal of frac-return fluids. Approximately 20%, or1 million gallons or so, of the material used in hydraulic fracturing flows back to thesurface in the first few weeks after fracturing, with all of the added and extractedchemical substances. In Texas, where most high-volume hydraulic fracturing hasoccurred so far, these wastes are disposed of by injection into old, abandonedconventional gas wells. In the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania, some waste hasbeen injected in such disposal wells, but suitable disposal wells are rare in the northeast,and much more has been disposed of in municipal sewage treatment plants. Suchtreatment plants simply are not designed to handle these toxic wastes. A significantamount of the wastes flow through the plants and are released into rivers. Public

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