Methane and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Shale Gas

Bob Howarth
The David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology
Cornell University

100% Renewable Denton Town Hall Meeting
University of North Texas, Denton, Texas

March 25, 2016

Pam Pearson of the International
Cryosphere Climate Initiative.
http://iccinet.org/thresholds .

Dangerous tipping points become increasingly likely at 1.5 deg,
12 to 15 years into the future at current rates.

http://news.discovery.com/earth/alas
kas-arctic-tundra-feeling-theheat.html

2.0 oC threshold
1.5 oC threshold

Shindell et al. 2012

• COP21 Paris Accord target: “well below 2 deg C”
• Clear recognition that warming beyond 1.5 deg C is dangerous

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (downloaded March 13, 2015)

Different views for the future of climate change….

Leiserowitz et al. (2011)

Stable to a point, then very rapid and radical change
in the Earth’s climate system

Leiserowitz et al. (2011)

Global warming over the next few decades may well be sufficient to
push the Earth into a different climatic regime.
At that point, reducing greenhouse gas emissions may no longer
reverse global warming, on the time scale of 10,000 years or more.
Runaway global warming, climate disruption, and sea-level rise at a
scale never before experienced.

Possible tipping points to push Earth into new climate system:

•melting of Arctic Ocean ice (with reduced albedo)
•change in ocean circulation (from less salty Atlantic Ocean)
• more thunderstorms in Arctic, leading to more fires
• melting of permafrost, and of methane hydrates

Oceans’ great conveyor belt may be slowing…
…. Caused by melting of Arctic ice and Greenland ice
sheet, making North Atlantic less salty.
…. Slowing could decrease uptake of CO2 by oceans.

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/global.html (downloaded March 13, 2016)

High potential for massive emissions of
ancient CH4 due to thawing permafrost and
release of “frozen” methane (methane
hydrates and clathrates).
CH4
CH4
CH4

Zimov et al. (2006) Science

15

The global area of tundra decreased 18% in just 20 years (Wang et al. 2004)

http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/detect/land-tundra.shtml
(downloaded June 9, 2014)

Two photographs from the same location in Alaska, showing the transition from
tundra to wetlands over the last twenty years (from Torre Jorgenson).

http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/detect/land-tundra.shtml
(downloaded June 9, 2014)

Hansen et al. (2007) suggested critical threshold
in climate system, to avoid melting of natural
methane clathrates, at ~ 1.8o C.

2-9 Tg CH4 yr-1

METHANE CLATHRATES
- methane frozen in water ice mix under ocean sediments
on continental shelves and in permafrost
- large potential for destabilization with increasing temp
- will it be oxidized to CO2 within the water column?
- HUGE pool (10,000 times current total annual global flux)

http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/news/MethaneHydrates.html

2.0 oC threshold
1.5 oC threshold

Danger point
for methane
clathrate
melting,
based on
geologic past

Shindell et al. 2012

Will be reached in ~ 25 years, unless the world starts
immediately to control methane and soot pollution

2.0 oC threshold
1.5 oC threshold

Danger point
for methane
clathrate
melting,
based on
geologic past

Shindell et al. 2012

Will be reached in ~ 25 years, unless the world starts
immediately to control methane and soot pollution
NOT predicting that methane clathrates will all
melt on this time frame, but the start of an
irreversible process of melting may well occur,
with disastrous consequences in the decades to
a century afterward.
2.0 oC threshold
1.5 oC threshold

Danger point
for methane
clathrate
melting,
based on
geologic past

Shindell et al. 2012

Is natural gas a “bridge fuel?”
For just the release of carbon dioxide during combustion…..

g C of CO2 MJ-1 of energy
Natural gas

15

Diesel oil

20

Coal

25

(Hayhoe et al. 2002)

Carbon Dioxide
Methane

• Natural gas is mostly methane
• Small leaks and emissions matter
• Shale gas emits more than conventional gas

People who Mattered
Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Ingraffea,
Robert Howarth
By Bryan Walsh Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011
The biggest environmental issue of 2011 — at least in the U.S. — wasn't global
warming. It was hydraulic fracturing, and these three men helped represent the
determined opposition to what's more commonly known as fracking. Anthony
Ingraffea is an engineer at Cornell University who is willing to go anywhere to talk
to audiences about the geologic risks of fracking, raising questions about the
threats that shale gas drilling could pose to water supplies. Robert Howarth is his
colleague at Cornell, an ecologist who produced one of the most controversial
scientific studies of the year: a paper arguing that natural gas produced by
fracking may actually have a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than coal. That
study — strenuously opposed by the gas industry and many of Howarth's fellow
scientists — undercut shale gas's major claim as a clean fuel. And while he's best
known for his laidback hipster performances in films like The Kids Are All Right,
Mark Ruffalo emerged as a tireless, serious activist against fracking — especially
in his home state of New York.

People who Mattered
Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Ingraffea,
Robert Howarth
By Bryan Walsh Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Other “People who Mattered” in 2011:
Newt Gingrich, Osama bin Laden, Joe Paterno,
Adele, Mitt Romney, Muammar Gaddafi,
Barack Obama, Bill McKibben, Herman Cain,
Rupert Murdoch, Vladimir Putin, Benjamin
Netanyahu…

One of our major conclusions in Howarth et al. (2011):
pertinent data for shale gas were extremely limited, and
poorly documented.
Great need for better data on shale gas, conducted by
researchers free of industry control and influence.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Schneising et al. (2014) –
“Remote sensing of fugitive
methane emissions from oil
and gas production in North
American tight geologic
formations.” Earth’s Future
2: 548-558

United States

global

Upstream methane emissions
unconventional gas

Howarth et al. (2011)
EPA (2011)
EPA (2013)
Petron et al. (2012)
Denver-Julesburg

Karion et al. (2013)
Uinta

Allen et al. (2013)
US Average

Petron et al. (2014)
Denver-Julesburg

Caulton et al. (2014)
SW Marcellus

Schneising et al. (2014)
Bakken & Eagle Ford

Peischl et al. (2015)

Haynesville
Western Arkoma
Fayetteville
NE Marcellus

0

5

10

15

20

Methane emissions from unconventional gas operations (upstream only, % of production)

Greenhouse gas footprints, CO2 plus methane (averaged for 20 years after emission)

Red = methane
Orange = CO2

Howarth 2015 Energy Emissions & Control Technologies

Time frame for comparing methane and carbon dioxide:
• Hayhoe et al. (2002)
• Lelieveld et al. (2005)
• Jamarillo et al. (2007)
• Howarth et al. (2011)
• Hughes (2011)
• Venkatesh et al. (2011)
• Jiang et al. (2011)
• Wigley (2011)
• Fulton et al. (2011)
• Stephenson et al. (2011)
• Hultman et al. (2011)
• Skone et al. (2011)
• Burnham et al. (2011)
• Cathles et al. (2012)

0 to 100 years
20 & 100 years
100 years
20 & 100 years
20 & 100 years
100 years
100 years
0 to 100 years
100 years
100 years
100 years
100 years
100 years
100 years

IPCC (2013): “There is no
scientific argument for
selecting 100 years compared
with other choices.”

“The choice of time horizon ….
depends on the relative
weight assigned to the effects
at different times.”

Dangerous tipping points become increasingly likely at 1.5 deg,
12 to 15 years into the future at current rates.

Controlling methane is Essential to the solution!
http://news.discovery.com/earth/alas
kas-arctic-tundra-feeling-theheat.html

2.0 oC threshold
1.5 oC threshold

Shindell et al. 2012

Natural Gas Production in the United States
EIA 2015 Outlook data and mean reference projections

35

30

Exajoules

25

20

conventional
15

shale

10

5

0
1980

1990

2000

2010

2020

2030

2040

Howarth 2015 Energy Emissions & Control Technologies

US Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fossil Fuel Use, 1980 - 2014
Total
emissions
(with best
accounting for
methane)

EPA estimate for
total emissions

Just CO2

Howarth 2015 Energy Emissions & Control Technologies

The two faces of Carbon
Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Methane (CH4)

• Emissions today will
influence climate for
1,000s of years

• Persists in the
atmosphere for only
12 years

• Because of lags in
climate system,
reducing emissions
now will have little
influence during next
40 years

• Only modest long-term
influence, unless
global warming leads
to tipping points in the
climate system
• Reducing emissions
immediately slows
global warming

• COP21 Paris Accord target: “well below 2 deg C”
• Clear recognition that warming beyond 1.5 deg C is dangerous
• To reach COP21 target will require the world to be largely
free of fossil fuels by 2050 (and the US by 2035)
• Methane reductions are critical; cannot reach COP21 target
with CO2 reductions alone

Yesterday’s fuel

So what should
our energy
future be?

Shale gas…. A bridge to nowhere

Jacobson and Delucchi 2009

The 2030 Plan: Powering New York State with
Wind, Water, and the Sun to Address Global
Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security

Howarth-Marino home
(1890’s farm house in
upstate New York) is
100% carbon neutral,
with geothermal heating
and renewable
electricity.
Half of our driving is by
electric car.

Funding:
Cornell University
Park Foundation

For more information:

howarthlab.org

Shale gas…. A bridge to nowhere