In their push for more natural gas, drilling operators are increasingly using a process called hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which shoots vast amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break apart rock and release the gas. More frequently, this process also involves drilling down and then turning horizontally.
West Virginia leaders are hoping this practice expands as gas companies seek to tap into vast reserves contained in the Marcellus Shale, a formation that stretches across 95,000 square miles from southern New York and into eastern Ohio.
Last month, lawmakers approved new tax credits to try to encourage oil and gas industry growth, but declined an outcry from citizens -- and the recommendations from the state Department of Environmental Protection -- for new regulations on drilling. As advocates of those regulations have pushed for a special session on the issue, industry groups have launched a new public relations campaign promoting their economic contributions to the state.
On Monday, the gas industry-sponsored blog "Energy In Depth" attacked the new paper and questioned some of the methods used by the researchers. The group also criticized Howarth because he has talked about his scientific research at public meetings and government comment periods in New York, where Marcellus Shale drilling is a heated issue.
Separately, Christopher Van Atten, an industry consultant with the firm M.J. Bradley & Associates, questioned some of the assumptions used in Howarth's study and said that even the authors noted there was great uncertainty about some of the data used.
In a news release, Howarth said the new study is not intended as "the definitive scientific study in regards to this question."
"It's clearly not," Howarth said. "What we're hoping to do with this study is to stimulate the science that should have been done before. In my opinion, corporate business plans superseded national energy strategy."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.