Hooray for The New Yorker and its writer Elizabeth Kohlbert for not transmitting one more time Professor Howarth's junk science. She writes: "Coal plants, meanwhile, produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as natural-gas plants per unit of energy generated. In the end, the best case to be made for fracking is that much of what is already being done is probably even worse." www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2011/12/05/111205taco_talk_kolbert.
At least 5 studies (Carnegie Mellon University, Worldwatch Institute, National Energy Technology Laboratory, University of Maryland, and the Second Cornell University study) confirm the accuracy of her statement and justify her judgment for consigning Howarth to oblivion. Kohlbert also could have added that gas power plants emit no toxics or soot that sicken and kill up to 34,000 people per year, according to the EPA.
The fact that coal emits twice the carbon on a lifecycle basis as natural gas certainly makes the environmental case for banning shale gas difficult. Indeed the United Nations for the Durban Climate Talks announced that the world needs to cut global carbon emissions by 53% below 2005 levles by 2050 to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Natural gas when it replaces coal essentially meets the 53% cut right now and not in 2050. To be clear I am not saying gas alone is the solution. Energy efficiency, renewables, nuclear, carbon capture and storage, biofuels, and more are needed in large quantities as well.
While Kohlbert gets the big carbon point and the big picture right that gas has impacts but is much cleaner than coal (and oil), she is on the edge of getting some other important details wrong. For example, she writes: "...in the absence of a rational energy policy, there's no reason to substitute shale gas for coal. We can combust them both!"
Kohlbert is apparently unaware that 231 coal units over the next 10 years are closing (see yesterday's posting) and often are being replaced by gas or that coal's national market share of power generation already has fallen from 52% to 43% as gas' has increased from 16% to 24%. Two things are driving the move from coal to gas.
The shale gas boom has created record supply and crashed the natural gas price, making it more economic than coal in many cases. That is quite a reason to substitute gas for coal.
And policy is becoming rational by requiring all power plants--including old, coal fired power plants--to meet modern pollution standards for air toxics, soot, smog. The EPA's proposed air toxic rule is met by natural gas plants but old, coal plants without modern pollution controls do not. The EPA's proposed air toxic rule is creating a level economic playing field for all power generators and is indeed rational policy that requires power plant owners to invest in modern pollution controls or switch to gas and other power generation that meet the rule.
Kohlbert will be having a live chat tomorrow at 3pm so perhaps some of you can dialogue with her then.