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Dems want hearings on natural gas, climate change

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House Democratic leaders are calling for hearings to examine global warming pollution from the nation's booming natural gas in the wake of conflicting studies of a key issue facing the industry.

Ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Energy and Power Subcommittee ranking member Bobby L Rush, D-Ill., are urging the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings on methane emissions from the nation's oil and gas sector.

Burning coal for electricity produces about twice the carbon dioxide as burning natural gas, but some scientists remain concerned about methane emissions that leak from gas-drilling operations, in part because methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Waxman and Rush cited a Harvard University study, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that found methane emissions from natural gas and agriculture were likely two times larger than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had previously estimated.

They also cited a University of Texas study, published in that same journal in September, that found methane emissions from some parts of the natural gas production process were less than previously though -- but also that emissions from other parts of the process were greater than previously believed.

"The rate at which methane leaks into the atmosphere from natural gas production is a critical question that we must answer," Waxman and Rush said. "Sound science must inform our policymaking as the nation increases its production of natural gas, uses more natural gas to generate electricity, and even begins to export natural gas to new markets."

Two years ago, the issue of methane emissions from the gas boom gained much more attention with the publication of a study by a team of Cornell University researchers led by ecology professor Robert Howarth. That study reported that natural gas could be just as bad -- or worse -- than coal for global warming, especially if the issue is examined on the short time frame in which scientists believe action is needed to curb global warming.

Since then, industry officials have harshly criticized Howarth's study, and there's been a lively debate in scientific journals about his results and about the many variables used to estimate methane emissions from the shale-gas boom across the country.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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