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Activist Researcher Back With Debunked Claims On Oil, Methane Emissions

fracking oil gas

fracking oil gas

A new Park Foundation-funded methane study is generating lots of anti-fracking headlines, despite its conclusions being at odds with the bulk of the scientific community.

Cornell University professor and Food and Water Watch board member, Bob Howarth, is back and this time he claims that oil and natural gas emissions are the primary cause of recent global methane spikes – a theory that many climate and atmospheric scientists have rejected.

Howarth’s conclusions were called “far-reaching” and “premature by one of the anonymous experts tasked by Biogeosciences to review the research prior to publication, who explained:

The advice to move as quickly as possible away from natural gas based on this study does not appear sufficiently conclusive…”

The research, which Howarth stressed multiple times during the journal’s review process is “in the ‘Ideas & Perspectives’ category and is not a traditional research paper,” also met a healthy dose of skepticism from the scientific community. As Newsweek reports:

“Quentin Fisher, professor of petroleum geoengineering at the U.K.’s University of Leeds, said he was ‘deeply skeptical’ about the study. ’The results are extremely sensitive to highly questionable assumptions regarding the isotopic composition of methane found in shale. The arguments made by previous studies that increase in methane in the atmosphere is from biogenic sources, such as release from wetlands and agriculture or burning of biomass, seem far more convincing.’” (emphasis added)

Fisher’s criticism is likely the first of many if Howarth’s previous research track record of rejections is any indicator. Here are four key facts to keep in mind when reading the study’s media coverage.

Fact #1: Howarth’s research is a prime example of the “Keep It In the Ground” echo chamber.

This research was funded, written and peer-reviewed by people and organizations openly affiliated with the KIITG movement.

Given this, it’s unsurprising that Howarth’s solution to his perceived problem is to “move as quickly as possible away from natural gas,” according to Newsweek, despite acknowledging in the study that there are “large opportunities for reducing emissions” in the oil and natural gas sector.


The Park Foundation’s president Adelaide Park – a family heir – has said:

In our work to oppose fracking, the Park Foundation has simply helped to fuel an armyof courageous individuals and NGOs.” (emphasis added)

A 2018 Northeastern University study found the Park Foundation to be one of the largest funders of anti-fracking research and activism:

To support efforts to ban/restrict fracking, Schmidt ($3.3 million), Hewlett ($1.5 million), Park ($1.1 million), and Heinz ($1 million) were the leading funders. Park gave primarily to groups working in New York state. Relative to protecting drinking water supplies, major funders included Heinz ($1 million) for efforts in Pennsylvania; and Park ($760,000) for work in North Carolina and New York. Major funders of research on fracking’s health and environmental impacts included Heinz ($2.7 million), Park ($780,000), and Schmidt ($390,000). These funds were given to a mix of universities and environmental groups.” (emphasis added)

Conflict of Interest

Despite declaring “no conflict of interest” in the study, Howarth clearly has conflicts, most notably that he sits on Food and Water Watch’s board of directors.

F&WW explains that its board consists of “leaders in activism” and prides itself on being “the first U.S. national organization to call for a ban on fracking.”


At least one of the study’s peer-reviewers has clear conflicts of interest that are also not disclosed in the study. Fellow Cornell professor and activist Tony Ingraffea sits on Earthwork’s board of directors – a group that vehemently opposes fracking and stood by its organizer, Sharon Wilson (also thanked in the study), when she equated it with “rape”.

He is also the founder of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, an organization that has released several health studies that blame fracking for a multitude of ailments, but offer no actual proof as to how they reached such a conclusion, including at least one that Ingraffea had a hand in drafting.

Notably, these studies have been heavily criticized by other environmental groups for not taking real measurements.

The group also released a 2012 media strategy memo that urged environmentalists to make connections between health problems and fracking even when no evidence to support the linkages exist.

Further, Ingraffea has called himself “a self-admitted advocate” against fracking on multiple occasions.

Fact #2: Howarth’s previous oil and natural gas emissions research was thoroughly debunked by the scientific community.

In 2011, Howarth teamed up with Ingraffea on a study that alleged methane leaks from oil and natural gas systems to be around 7 to 8 percent – for context, most studies estimate leakage rates to be between 1.1 and 1.7 percent.

Even the Environmental Defense Fund’s estimate of a 2.3 percent rate, which is roughly 60 percent higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, is far below Howarth’s 2011 estimate or his new study’s estimate of 3.5 percent leakage.

Read rest at EID Climate