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I’m not sure what to think or who to believe about the risks and challenges associated with extracting natural gas from shale.
The controversy and the emotions over hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) are hot and show no signs of cooling off, especially in Ohio and other shale-rich states that are just beginning to explore their natural gas reserves. Even as projects are moving forward, regulators are scrambling and communities are living in the moment, it seems that neither the proponents nor opponents have exactly figured out their “story,” let alone know how to communicate it clearly and consistently.
And the technical folks aren’t much help either. Look at what’s happening at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. One group of Cornell researchers, led by Professor Robert Howarth, believes that the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is “perhaps more than twice as great” as coal over a 20-year timeframe. Their theory is that methane, which can leak at the well, is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (assuming you believe in climate change at all, which, of course, is a totally different discussion).
On the other hand, Professor Larry Cathles is arguing that natural gas is cleaner than coal because it doesn’t produce by-products such as sulfur, mercury, ash and particulates.
This January 19, 2012 Associated Press article summarizes the “house divided” situation at Cornell. Although technically focused, both groups seem to recognize the significance of the public relations and communications challenges associated with their findings, rebuttals and ongoing debate. (Read one of Cathles’ latest rebuttals to check out the tone of the PR battle.) Naturally, the two researchers' funding is coming from opposite sides of the debate.
This may be a fascinating case study in academic inquiry and interest group-sponsored research, but it’s mostly frustrating for the rest of us. Whom do you believe? What’s the real story? What do we do next?
The inbox fills up much faster than just about anyone's ability to keep up with it. A lot of it is junk - I'm sure glad it doesn't come to me in paper form! But some of it is really useful, eye-opening and thought-provoking. Here is some recommended reading from a wide variety of sources since the beginning of the year:
Ohio fracking: A balanced Reuters story (January 13, 2012) about the use of fracking in shale drilling in Ohio. Another good versus evil story – earthquakes and the environment versus jobs and domestic energy production.
Megatrends: Bill Roth, The Triple Pundit guest blogger for January 3, 2012, highlights "five megatrends creating 2012's trillion dollar global sustainable economy." The list consists of energy efficiency, greening of the supply chain, local food, the rise of the "smart" consumer that won't be swayed by greenwashing, and Hispanic green leadership. An unusual grouping, for sure.
News from Apple: Apple has released a list of its major suppliers for the first time and published its supplier responsibility progress report. The January 13, 2012 New York Times article is a complete read on this topic. The transparency is good for Apple, even though some of its suppliers' business practices are going to come under fire. For that reason, the January 17, 2012 “cry for help” follow-up by The Triple Pundit guest blogger Tina Casey is also interesting.
Redefining the triple bottom line: In a January 13, 2012 CSRwire Talkback post, David Wilcox laments only incremental improvements in corporate responsibility. He argues that companies need to do more to scale from "do less harm" to "do more good." He also says they should work toward a "license to grow," not just a "license to operate."
Socially responsible investing: A January 10, 2012 post by Rory Sullivan for London-based Ethical Corporation speaks to the “uncomfortable truths” about socially responsible investing (SRI). In the wake of Henderson Global Investors’ decision to close it its highly regarded socially responsible investing team, Sullivan wonders whether SRI incentives and drivers are really as strong and real as proponents say they are. Or are they just rhetoric?