Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Statement to the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation regarding the draft sGEIS for shale gas development in New York State
Robert W. Howarth
The David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology

309 Corson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 607-255-6175 Howarth@cornell.edu October 12, 2011 I am sorry I was not able to appear before the Committee in person during your hearing last week, but I had a prior commitment to travel to Brussels and present testimony to the European Union Parliament. The Parliament had invited me and paid my way to attend the hearing, due to their interest in on our research on greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas development and how this affects the European Union commitment to mitigating global climate change. Note that our research was cited as one of the prime reasons that the government of France passed a permanent ban on shale gas on October 3, 2011. The Department of Environmental Conservation has prepared a long and detailed draft sGEIS. Unfortunately, I find the document critically lacking in important details. To summarize my major concern in one statement, the draft sGEIS fails to use the most recent and best scientific information, and as a result, the document reaches many incorrect conclusions and fails to adequately protect the environment and people of New York State. As Prof. Tony Ingraffea and I wrote in an invited commentary for the journal Nature on September 15, 2011, “Because shale gas development is so new, scientific information on the environmental costs is scarce. Only this year have studies in peer-reviewed journals begun to appear, and these give reason for pause.” (Howarth & Ingraffea, Should fracking stop? Yes, it’s too high risk, Nature, v. 477, pages 271273). Here, let me briefly raise two issues (I will be providing more detailed feedback directly to the DEC before their comment period ends). First, the sGEIS severely underestimates the risk to drinking water sources, and second, the sGEIS completely mischaracterizes the magnitude and consequences of greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas development. On the question of drinking water contamination, the sGEIS refers to the May 2011 paper by Duke University scientists published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Osborn, S. et al. 2011. Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying
gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; doi:

10.1073/pnas.1100682108). However, the sGEIS treats this important study in a rather dismissive

way. Since this paper represents the only peer-reviewed paper ever published on the contamination of private drinking water wells from hydraulic fracturing, it deserves much more credence than given in the sGEIS. The finding of the paper is that private water wells within 1 km (approximately 7/10ths of a mile) of an active shale-gas well have a 75% percent of having their water contaminated with very high levels of methane. Given the likely spacing of wells within New York State should shale gas be developed, the majority of private drinking water wells in gas development areas seem likely to be contaminated. Another drinking water supply concern is the contamination of municipal drinking water supplies from fracking fluids, which can enter the water supply through surface accidents and spills, through illegal dumping of frac-fluid return wastes, and through the disposal of frac-fluid return wastes in sewage treatment plants (see details in the Howarth & Ingraffea Nature commentary form September 15, as well as numerous well-documented reports in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?hp; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/us/02gas.html?hp; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/us/04gas.html?hp; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/us/04natgas.html?ref=ianurbina). The sGEIS clearly recognizes that such contamination can occur, for instance stating on pages ES17 and ES18 of the Executive Summary: “In April 2010 the Department concluded that due to the
unique issues presented by HVHF operations within the drinking watersheds for the City of New York and Syracuse, the SGEIS would not apply to activities in those watersheds. Those areas present unique issues that primarily stem from the fact that they are unfiltered water supplies that depend on strict land use and development controls to ensure that water quality is protected. The revised analysis of HVHF operations in the dSGEIS concludes that the proposed HVHF activity is not consistent with the preservation of these watersheds as an unfiltered drinking water supply. Even with all of the criteria and conditions identified in this dSGEIS, a risk remains that significant HVHF activities in these areas could result in a degradation of drinking water supplies from accidents, surface spills, etc.” However, the

sGEIS has absolutely no scientific basis for assuming that the municipal drinking water supplies in the State other than in Syracuse and New York City are somehow protected by filtration systems. In a September 15 letter to Governor Cuomo, I and 58 experts from across New York State and the world wrote to challenge this presumption. The full letter and list of signatories is available at http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/data/Sign_on_letter_Final.pdf With regard to greenhouse gas emissions, the sGEIS completely ignores peer-reviewed scientific literature and instead relies on industry web sites. For context, the scientific understanding on greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas has undergone a massive change in the past 11 months. A great deal of new information and new analyses have been published or presented recently, and all of this information is completely ignored by the sGEIS. Instead, the presentation represents a viewpoint based on information from the 1990s and earlier, before any shale-gas development even occurred. The latest scientific information leads to the strong conclusion that shale gas has the largest greenhouse gas footprint of any fossil fuel, when emissions of methane gas are fully considered and the consequences evaluated at time scales of 50 years or less following emission (see the Howarth & Ingraffea commentary in Nature, as well 2

as the references cited there). New York State may not be able to meet our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if shale gas is allowed to be developed without effective regulation to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Such regulations are not considered in the sGEIS. A few key studies which are not presented in the sGEIS, but which must be considered if the consequences of shale gas development on greenhouse gas emissions are to be understood, are listed below. Note that all of these were available at the time the DEC issued the final draft of the sGEIS. ! Shindell, D. et al. 2009. Improved attribution of climate forcing to emissions. Science 326:716-718. [this study demonstrates that the global warming potential of methane compared to carbon dioxide is far greater than previously appreciated, and far greater than assumed in the sGEIS, which relies on decades old science]. Governmental Accountability Office 2010. Federal Oil and Gas Leases: Opportunities Exist to Capture Vented and Flared Natural Gas, Which would Increase Royalty Payments and Reduce Greenhouse Gases. GAO-11-34 U.S. General Accountability Office Washington DC. October 2010. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1134.pdf [this report from October 2010 is an independent assessment by this investigatory arm of Congress to examine losses of methane and natural gas on federally owned lands; the report concludes that methane emissions are far higher than had generally been assumed]. Environmental Protection Agency 2010. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Industry. Background Technical Support Document. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/downloads10/Subpart-W_TSD.pdf [this report from November 2010 is the first update on methane emissions from the natural gas industry by the EPA since 1996; the report concludes that methane emissions are far higher than previously believed, giving natural gas in general and shale gas in particular a far larger greenhouse gas footprint than had been assumed prior to November 2010]. Howarth, R., et al. 2011. Methane and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change Letters, doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0061-5 [this is the first comprehensive study to evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas, including emissions of methane; the conclusion is that shale gas has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than either coal or oil, particularly for time scales of a few decades following emission]. Hughes, D. 2011. Will Natural Gas Fuel America in the 21st Century? (Post Carbon Institute 2011). http://www.postcarbon.org/report/331901-will-natural-gas-fuel-americain [this report by a 32-year veteran scientist from the Canadian Geological Survey builds on the Howarth et al. 2011 paper, taking a more detailed look at the use of shale gas to generate electricity; the report confirms the findings of Howarth et al. that shale gas has a larger footprint than coal even when used to generate electricity, over time scales of 50 years or less following emission]. 3

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United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization 2011. Integrated assessment on black carbon and tropospheric ozone: Summary for decision makers. [this report from the United Nations stresses the need to work immediately to control the release of short-lived greenhouse gases, and concludes that controlling methane emissions is probably the most important step that can be taken globally that will show immediate consequences in reducing global warming trends]. Wigley, T. 2011. Coal to gas: The influence of methane leakage. Climatic Change Letters, doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0217-3 [this paper takes a detailed look at the concept of using shale gas to replace coal for electricity generation, and concludes that in fact shale gas development will aggravate global warming over time scales of several decades, not mitigate global warming as asserted by industry and presented in draft the sGEIS].

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Thank you to the Committee for our interest and for the opportunity to present a written statement.

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