First Response to Mr. Kennedy’s HuffPost
(Let me preface this blog by saying that it is a response to an article I was asked to scrutinize by @WaterCitizen. This means that I am reviewing a piece produced by Robert Kennedy Jr. for the express purpose of giving my opinion.)
In response to my last Blog entitled “Why I don’t Believe Ian Urbina“, @WaterCitizen (Citizens for Water, anti-Frac’ing activist) asked me to take a look at the endorsement by Robert Kennedy Jr. for the “Drilling Down” series that I’d just finished questioning. A response here requires me to re-treat Urbina’s articles in regards to the stamp of approval Kennedy gives Urbina’s series.
I must admit that I did not understand this at all considering the fact that I just explained for @WaterCitizen why I did not believe Ian Urbina or his series because of what I believed was a fundamental failure of journalistic integrity.
I don’t find Urbina or Kennedy’s opinions more credible than the thousands of investors, geologists, and scientists who disagree with them. What is more puzzling is the amount of support that Kennedy’s article has gained from the Fractivist community. It has started a movement as if Kennedy has thrown down some invisible gauntlet. They believe Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake must answer and they are calling for him to do so.
The reason I say this (I will only deal with Kennedy’s intro and first 6 bullet points) is because Kennedy isn’t saying anything remarkable. A lot of what Kennedy writes has the same problem as the majority of what I read coming from Fractivists, namely, a passionately written but factually flawed argument.
When making scientific arguments, this will not suffice, regardless of how succinct or eloquent the writer may be.
Another thing I would mark (in my observations) is the practice of fractivists to discredit the scientific information provided by the industry or those on “the industry payroll” solely because they are industry, as if the information is intentionally falsified for the sake of argument.
They tend to hold their information as irrefutable and ours as tainted.
My hope is that those who read this will see that I am questioning the veracity of the anti-industry claims (in this case, Kennedy’s) in the same fashion that protestors call us to task over what they believe to be false.
Kennedy’s piece in the Huffington Post starts with the line “Superb investigative journalism by the New York Times has brought the paper under attack by the natural gas industry.”
Well, at this point, we’ve already reached an impassable obstacle because I simply don’t find Urbina’s brand to be “Superb investigative journalism” or that it is “covering this extremely important topic with rigor and balance” nor would I agree with Kennedy’s stated opinion as to the cause for “industry attacks.”
I don’t agree with the use of the terminology “industry attacks” either. They are rebuttals to aggressive articles targeting industry.
It is Urbina’s one-sided arguments have caused him to come under “attack” by the natural gas industry.
Upon reading the article, I immediately suspected that Kennedy didn’t understand what the word “rigor” meant although he used it correctly to describe Urbina.
“Rigor,” meaning harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment is dead on.
“Balance” implies that Urbina produced a balanced final product.
This is either paradoxical or an oxymoron. How can an unyielding opinion be balanced unless evidence be so conclusive as to remove all doubt. This would imply that Urbina weighed all of the facts, included all the facts, and arrived at an opinion that his “superb investigative journalism” afforded him. This is impossible by nature of the fact that Urbina offers no evidence contrary to the point which he intends to prove. It is quite easy for an argument to stand when no wind of opposition is present, thereby proving that journalism is not subject to the scientific method.
It also implies that his opinion is objectively true if it be “superb”.
But as I said, and would continue to contend, the most important quality a journalist should possess should be an ability to present both sides, which Urbina does not.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former Chief Economist at the Dept. of Labor and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, recently wrote an article in the Washington Examiner entitled “What the Times didn’t tell you about Ian Urbina”.
She made similar criticisms to those listed in the blog I wrote last week mostly pertaining to intentional misrepresentation of questionable sources including omitting that Art Berman,”a Houston based geologist”, and Deborah Rogers “a member of the advisory committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas” are both adamantly against Hydraulic Fracturing. His citations don’t include those who disagree with him or the counter arguments they present. I have written about this before but have to deal with this again because Kennedy starts his article by condoning Urbina’s series.
How is conveniently and incompletely citing each source to leverage a maximum advantage not “obfuscation”?, a word Mr. Kennedy threw into the verbose harangue of verbal abuse listed in his article?
This is another sticking point because Kennedy repeatedly insults those in industry throughout his paper. I don’t understand the basis for his disdain for other people. For a side that typically champions the rights of people in their arguments against industry, I find it profoundly hypocritical that a man would call those of us in industry by so many names.
If Kennedy speaks for a group of people that values human life in their arguments, how can he get a pass to speak so derisively to such a large group of people?
If you replaced “industry” or other references to industry with “the Mafia” in his article, one would scarcely be able to discern the difference in the level of disdain.
We are folks who graduated from college and got jobs. We found jobs in the Oil and Gas Industry because we have children, and mortgages, and bills to pay. We are not faceless, inherently evil minions…and there are millions of us.
We stand accused of intimidation, obfuscation, orchestrating and launching “propaganda” efforts by “slick PR firms”, depicted negatively as “industry funded front groups” whereas companies like Exxon and Chesapeake align with “the industry’s worst bottom feeders” and as a “predictable cabal of right wing industry toadies” appearing on cable and radio.
Mr. Kennedy went on to cite, with bullet points, arguments against industry that related to multiple aspects of Frac’ing and natural gas he wished to dissect for public display and place in a disagreeable light.
I will deal with the first six points but I have a feeling, now that I am writing, that a sufficient treatment will take much longer than I initially thought. I will deal with his first bullet point in this post.
Bullet Point 1:
Mr. Kennedy immediately harms his credibility when he wrote “Recent studies have raised doubts about many of the industry’s fundamental presumptions…”
He then cited the now infamous Howarth study from Cornell and said “…releases of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, may counterbalance virtually all the benefits of CO2 reductions projected to result from substituting gas power for coal.” in order to cast doubt on the claims that natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel than coal.
What he does not mention is that this study’s credibility has been blasted by Greens and Industry alike.
The Clean Air Task Force said plainly: “it is not a credible study.” They also said “This paper is selective in its use of some very questionable data and too readily ignores or dismisses available data that would change its conclusions.”
Clean Air Task Force member and atmospheric scientist David McCabe also says:
1. Over time, we really need to be driving towards zero emissions of carbon from power generation, whether we’re using coal or gas. And we will need to use coal and gas for a long time around the world. We just can’t ramp up renewables and nuclear fast enough to avoid the worst climate damage. That means using carbon capture and sequestration. We know how to do this, and have done so around the world. We need to start applying these technologies now at commercial scale.
2.In the meantime, we can clean up excess emissions of methane from gas, oil, and coal extraction immediately at relatively low cost, making much of the coal versus gas “excess methane” discussion irrelevant. EPA and the states should take appropriate actions to make this happen.
Kennedy completely ignores carbon capture and sequestration as if these practices don’t exist regardless of the benefits they could provide.
The Natural Resources Defense Counsel offers their review here.
Michael Levi, Senior Fellow of The Council on Foreign Relations chimes in here and says:
Howarth’s gas-to-coal comparisons are all done on a per energy unit basis. That means that he compares the amount of emissions involved in producing a gigajoule of coal with the amount involved in producing a gigajoule of gas. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what a gigajoule is – it doesn’t really matter.) Here’s the thing: modern gas power generation technology is a lot more efficient than modern coal generation, so a gigajoule of gas produces a lot more electricity than a gigajoule of coal. The per kWh comparison is the correct one, but Howarth doesn’t do it. This is an unforgivable methodological flaw; correcting for it strongly tilts Howarth’s calculations back toward gas, even if you accept everything else he says.
I worry about what this paper says about the peer review process and the way the press treats it. This article was published in a peer-reviewed journal that’s edited by talented academics. It presumably got a couple good reviews, since its time from submission to publication was quite short. These reviewers don’t appear to have been on the ball. Alas, this sort of thing is inevitable in academic publishing. It’s a useful caution, though, against treating peer review as a mark of infallibility, as too many in the climate debate – both media and advocates – have done.
It does not end there. Some of you may familiar with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT).
MIT Energy Initiative Exec. Director Melanie Kenderdine, in an interview with CNBC stated,
“What he has done in his analysis is deviated from what are accepted standards, accepted by EPA, DOE, the IPCC, European Trading Scheme, California Air Resources board, where essentially the denominator that they use to calculate the impacts of various greenhouse gases is an agreed upon 100 years; Professor Howarth uses 20 years.”
I will list some more soundbites about this study:
“Howarth [and Ingraffea] found a large fraction of produced gas from unconventional wells never made it to end users, assumed that all of that gas was vented as methane, and thus concluded that the global warming impacts were huge. As the [Dept. of Energy] work explains, though, 62% of that gas isn’t lost at all – it’s ‘used to power equipment.’” (CFR blog, May 20, 2011).
“[Ingraffea’s and Howarth’s] analysis is seriously flawed in that they significantly overestimate the fugitive emissions associated with unconventional gas extraction…”
“[T]he assumptions used by Howarth et al. are inappropriate and…their data, which the authors themselves characterize as ‘limited’, do not support their conclusions.” (June 2011, Lawrence M. Cathles, Cornell Univ. Prof.)
“Carnegie Mellon assistant researcher Paulina Jaramillo said, the Cornell paper assumed that all pre-produced natural gas is vented, not flared, and if the fugitive emissions were at the rate the Cornell study suggests, natural gas companies would be losing the majority of their product.” …
“We don’t think they’re using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased,” [Jaramillo] said. “And the comparison they make at the end, my biggest problem, is wrong.” (Dr. Paulina Jaramillo, Assistant Research Professor at Carnegie Mellon University)
When Howarth and Ingraffea presented this information to their colleagues, they had the following to say:
- Howarth: “They are limited data. These are not published data. These are things teased apart out of PowerPoint presentations here and there. So rather than try to extrapolate based on any complicated formula, we’ve ended up simply taking the mean of those values.” (Howath presentation to colleagues, 22:30, March 15, 2011)
- Howarth: “A lot of the data we used are really low quality, but I’m confident that they are the best available data.” (38:50)
- Howarth: “Let me just as an aside say that, again, the quality of the data behind that number [methane emissions during well completion] are pretty lousy. You know, they’re these weird PowerPoint sort of things.” (44:15)
- Ingraffea: “We do not intend for you to accept what we have reported on today as the definitive scientific study in respect to this question, clearly it is not. We have pointed out as many times as we could that we are basing this study on in some cases questionable data.” (38:20)
- Ingraffea: “I hope you don’t gather from this presentation that we think we’re right.” (57:15)
- Howarth: “We did not look as carefully at coal. … We didn’t put anywhere near the amount of effort into them [coal numbers], but I’m sure they are lower than natural gas.” (39:10 – 40:08)
To clarify this further, Howarth was quoted by Technologyreview.com as saying ” ‘I blew it’ by not including the impact of methane leaks from coal mining.”
When Kennedy begins his industry challenge by citing a study that probably shouldn’t have been published because of the admittedly “lousy” data for the purpose of arguing against the benefits of natural gas, he should have done more homework because this tactic smacks of a personal smear campaign.
He accuses industry of having “artfully manufactured deceptive talking points and posted blogs that are parroted by journalists looking for an industry response to The Times coverage and then e-mailed as ‘facts’ to the industry’s supporters and its indentured servants in Congress.”
I can not fathom how, by Kennedy’s standards, he can escape his own criticism on this point.
To quote C.S. Lewis,
Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
I understand that if this man believes that we are destroying the world through pollution and that we are destroying the quality of honest folk’s lives and that we are looking to abandon all accountability and are to him a self-interested juggernaut, that he would be angry.
But, there is at the very least, room enough for pause in order to verify whether or not the basis for his anger is well founded.
The importance of this cannot be over-stated because Mr. Kennedy seeks to effect policy.
If you want even more room for pause, not abandonment, but pause, please take a look at CERN’s study of climate science. If you are familiar with who CERN is, you will understand the gravity of a study like this. CERN is one of the most respected groups of scientists on the face of this Earth. One of their recent studies points the finger at cosmic rays and the sun as being the controller of climate on earth, not human activities. An article about that can be found here.
CERN scientists, as prestigious as they are, cannot claim that this study is conclusive because there hasn’t been time to sufficiently prove anything nor are all of the variables accounted for.
Ingraffea and Howarth published their study with a problem which the press and Mr. Kennedy failed to recognize when he cited this study to back his point. The scientists behind the studies (Howarth and Ingraffea) won’t even say their findings prove anything.
They will not dare to say “This is conclusively what the data means.” They don’t flirt with conclusive interpretation because it could be career suicide.
Tony Ingraffea says “I hope you don’t gather from this presentation that we think we’re right.” concerning their study and “We do not intend for you to accept what we have reported on today as the definitive scientific study in respect to this question, clearly it is not. We have pointed out as many times as we could that we are basing this study on in some cases questionable data.”
Kennedy flew right past it and said something that a scientist wouldn’t because he offered no clarification. Neither Howarth nor Ingraffea would stand behind the findings of their study without clarifying first that their data was poor, which is precisely and explicitly what they did.
Kennedy failed to follow suit.
As a lawyer, Kennedy included “may counterbalance virtually all the benefits of CO2 reductions…” so that criticisms like this one wouldn’t stick, but in the context of his entire article, Kennedy’s first point was clear:
Natural Gas has no benefit over coal.
If the scientists who performed the study weren’t comfortable with communicating its findings in the same manner Kennedy did, then he should certainly be more careful. If he isn’t more careful, then he begins to look like Urbina, whom he supports, in not explaining his position thoroughly enough or of not recognizing that his statements need further explanation.
For a man like Kennedy, an attorney who specializes in environmental law, and makes a living being a wordsmith, I refuse to believe that this was an oversight.
There are legitimate concerns in industry and industry itself will benefit more from as smooth a process as is available as their practices are increasingly regulated. Acting like there is no other option other than a ban and attacking each benefit that shale gas can provide because you don’t like it is a ridiculous practice. Inferring that there are no benefits to shale gas by refusing to acknowledge any of them is obtuse.
I have heard every individual benefit of shale gas be scrutinized from estimable resources, to correctly quantifying job creation, to pollution concerns. What I have never heard from anti-frac’ing folks is a representation of the citizens in Dimock who want shale gas drilling. We haven’t heard from the Pennsylvanians who love that there is drilling in the state.
As I have argued before, this is an incomplete picture and so far, it is what Kennedy has painted.