"In other ways, I'd say coal is worse, without question," said Professor Howarth of Cornell University in today's The Patriot-News at page 4 about all pollutants other than carbon or heat trapping gas.
More on the important issue of heat trapping pollution that has already raised global temperatures and Professor Howarth's study in a moment.
But let's thank first Professor Howarth for making it clear that he agrees that gas is cleaner than coal on mercury, arsenic, lead, soot, nox, sox and a host of pollutants that sicken hundreds of thousands and cause up to 36,000 premature deaths each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, just from smog forming pollutants.
Coal burning power plants account for 90% of the toxic pollution coming from all power plants in the United States. Just focus on mercury. Gas emits no mercury. But mercury powers out of old coal plants with next to no pollution controls. So much mercury from coal burning has been put in the atmosphere that fish are contaminated (See the blog posting about the 2011 Pennsylvania Fish Consumption advisory) and then people eat the fish.
As a result, one out of 6 women has elevated levels of mercury so that any babies they may have could suffer from reduced IQ.
So again thank you to Professor Horwath for not disputing the overwhelming scientific case that gas is much cleaner than coal on pollutants other than heat trapping gas.
Nobody disagrees that gas when combusted releases about 50% less carbon than coal. But Professor Horwath says that when you do a "life cycle" analysis of coal and gas, then you find that gas emits more heat trapping gas than coal.
Consumer beware! The author of any life cycle analysis can get to a result quite easily, because life cycle analysis swings greatly on the assumptions, data inclusions, and data exclusions. It is not a simple scientific measurement.
To take just one example among legions, Professor Horwath himself is quoted to say in The Patriot News today that he assumed methane emissions during the initial flowback period of a well are never flared but vented fully into the atmosphere. In fact anyone who spends anytime in the Marcellus knows that not to be true because the flares are quite visible.
Horwath said to The Patriot News that if the wells are flared the results of the study change. "It's very difficult to figure out how often they do that rather than simply let it vent. The data is far from perfect." But Professor Horwath just adopted an extreme and false assumption of no flaring that conveniently moved the result of his life cycle analysis in the direction that he wanted.
And Professor Horwath does want the result to which he gets. He is a committed opponent of gas drilling and fracking, a position to which he is entitled in this free country.
What else has Professor Horwath said about the data that he uses in his study? On March 15, 2011 he is quoted as calling the data used in his study as "lousy", "really low quality," "teased apart out of PowerPoint presentations here and there." In a court of law, those would be case determining admissions. In a boxing match, the ref would stop the match. In science, they are an expressway to junk.
Especially troubling to me, Professor Horwath also rejects major conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that would lead to a big bronx cheer were polluters to do the same in service of their life cycle analysis.
Professor Horwath's conclusion that gas emits more heat trapping gas than carbon flies in the face of numerous life cycle studies done around the world. And more studies from credible organizations with strong environmental credentials are in the works.
But to take just one, in July 2010, the National Energy Technology Lab (http://www.netl.doe.gov/) that has no ax to grind published a presentation of its life cycle analysis of coal and gas. See http://www.netl.doe.gov/energy-analyses/refshelf/PubDetails.aspx?Action=View&PubId=315 .
What did NETL, a government energy lab, find? That coal emitted about 50% more carbon on a life cycle basis. Did the NYT or the media go into feeding frenzy mode when NETL came forward with its analysis?
Just seeing if you are awake.