Cornell Professor L. Cathles on Fracking

drilling-site-feat2size-featLawrence M. Cathles III, Professor
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Cornell University

After completing doctoral research on the viscosity of the earth’s mantle, Cathles spent seven years with Kennecott Copper, where his research included studies of the genesis of porphyry copper deposits and industrial leaching processes. In 1978 he joined the faculty of The Pennsylvania State University and in 1982 he returned to industrial research at the Chevron Oil Field Research Laboratory, where he worked on the development of genetic and exploration models for gold and sulfide deposits. He became a Cornell faculty member in 1987. Cathles is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a member of several professional societies. He has served on committees of the National Research Council and is a past associate editor of Economic Geology. In 1985 he won the Extractive Metallurgy Science Award of the Metallurgical Society of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers.

Cathles is well known as a proponent of fracking. In a letter to Gov. Cuomo cited below he explains his views. He writes:

Good regulation can assure that natural gas incurs less risk than any other economically equivalent development, and the economic benefits of natural gas development are large.

True or not, I am not convinced that good regulation is likely given our corrupt legislature which has yet to take needed action to regulate or tax fracking should it be allowed. Cathles does not discuss obstacles to enacting needed legislation in NYS or difficulties experienced in PA. Further, in discussion economic benefits he fails to address economic hardships other than damage to roads.

Cathles concludes:

Having looked at these issues carefully over the last 5 years, my conclusion is that the benefits from natural gas development far outweigh any risks or negatives involved. Natural gas represents a major economic, health, and global warming reduction opportunity, not a threat.

This conclusion seems based on several tacit assumptions:

  • Needed regulations and taxes will be enacted
  • The economic benefits claimed are real, sufficiently long lasting, and not offset by economic hardships.
  • Hazards can be identified and mitigated in practice.

The letter author’s style is to set up straw men, then kick them down. For example, Cathles writes:

The risk of aquifer contamination comes from spillage of waters returned to the surface, and to a lesser extent casing failures. These risks are local.

Even if true, that all such risks can and will be contained, local risks are not necessarily negligible.

While Professor Cathles’ letter purports to be unbiased, I find his assumptions insufficiently justified to support his sweeping conclusion.

© William Hungerford – October 2014

http://www.geo.cornell.edu/geology/faculty/Cathles.html

http://www.jlcny.org/site/attachments/article/2102/Cuomo%20Letter%20PDF%20Cathles.pdf

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About whungerford

* Contributor at NewNY23rd.com where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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11 Responses to Cornell Professor L. Cathles on Fracking

  1. Deb Meeker says:

    ” Good regulation can assure that natural gas incurs less risk than any other economically equivalent development, and the economic benefits of natural gas development are large.” Is Professor Cathles an “absent minded professor”?

    “Good regulation”? By whom? Those politicians pushing gas development, are the same ones working to cut government regulations across the whole spectrum of energy issues.
    “Less risk”? Must be the professor has not been keeping current on conditions in other states with high volume fracking areas. https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/10/11/18762739.php
    ” Economic benefits”? To whom? Very few permanent jobs are created, and in some cases, when gas is depleted, an area goes rapidly from boom to bust, leaving behind unusable land.

    Common sense strongly suggests that Upstate NY is not a good fit for natural gas exploration. The NY 23rd district for the most part, is farmland, ( dairy and wine production ) parks, tourism, and freshwater resources – the latter of with can never be replaced once toxic. As recently as 2012 Forbes admitted there is a natural gas “glut” in the US, and suggested selling it overseas was a win-win. The idea, that exporting gas will ” prevent foreign energy dependence” is ludicrous.

    NY 23rd district’s depressed areas, could be revitalized in part, by concentrated efforts to create green energy manufacture of solar and wind energy components, among other things in those areas, without the huge risks of contamination of fresh water supplies hydraulic fracturing creates. It seems most of the high paying more permanent “jobs” created by fracking in other states ( PA, OH, CA ) have been for clean up crews attempting ( unsuccessfully ) to mop up the spills, leaks and contamination HV fracking creates.

    Congressman Reed’s “all of the above approach” has not been proven out by his voting record – his interests lie not in NY 23rd’s health and growth, but in his donor’s and his own wallet. He promotes only shale gas expansion, to the detriment of the entire district.

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  2. BOB McGILL says:

    so explain why the gas industry has been going on in New York since 1823 and where would our society be without natural gass and oil ? You are totally nuts.

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  3. whungerford says:

    While Dr. Cathles doesn’t make this argument explicit, one might argue–the threat of burning coal is so great, so that if burning gas is seen as the only practical alternative, we should burn gas. Any local side effects, such as air or water pollution, can be seen as inconsequential and should be ignored.

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  4. whungerford says:

    What will we do Bob, when all the gas and oil is burned and gone? We may have been doing many unwise things since 1823, but that is no reason to continue.

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  5. Anne says:

    Once more, with feeling: why aren’t we throwing all this money toward solar?

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  6. solodm says:

    Don’t be afraid of green energy Bob. Most Americans were initially afraid of electricity too. “Solar spills” will be much easier to clean up.

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  7. BOB McGILL says:

    it will take decades to switch to wind and solar, besides the environmental issues that go along with it. If you think making wind mills and solar panels is polution free you’re wrong, it still takes oil to make all the plastic parts. Must be you missed all the protest over the wind mills in Geneva and the Town of Italy.
    Legislators should rethink costly renewable-energy mandates, By Rolf Westgard
    THIS IS THE BEST PART—” The effect of programs like this is to transfer money from low- and middle-income ratepayers to upper-income folk who can afford to decorate their roofs with solar panels ”
    “Subsidizing solar panels in Germany was about as useful as growing pineapples in Alaska.”
    Little noticed in legislative debates over taxes and budgets, House File 956, an omnibus energy bill, is quietly working its way through committee hearings, on its way to the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. A related bill, Senate File 901, is on a similar path.

    HF 956 is sponsored by DFL Reps. Melissa Horton and Bill Morgan. It imposes a new Renewable Energy Standard (RES), requiring investor-owned utilities to get 40 percent of their electric energy from renewable fuels like wind energy by 2030. This is a big increase over the existing and probably unattainable 25 percent RES. The bill also adds an additional mandate for investor-owned utilities to get 4 percent of their energy fuel supply from solar energy by 2025.

    The Energy Information Administration reports that for all of 2012, the United States got a little over 3 percent of its electric energy from wind, and one-half of 1 percent from solar. Although Minnesota gets more energy from wind than most other states, the leap from typical 3-4 percent to 44 percent from wind and solar is huge, even if we count on some help from other renewables such as burning biomass and some small hydroelectric power systems.

    Intermittent wind and solar energy are more expensive than conventional energy fuel sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear. To support this costly new Minnesota mandate for solar energy, HF 956 imposes a tax of 1.33 percent of a utility’s gross revenues. The proceeds, at least $30 million per year from Xcel Energy customers, will subsidize solar installations throughout the state.

    The effect: a money transfer
    The effect of programs like this is to transfer money from low- and middle-income ratepayers to upper-income folk who can afford to decorate their roofs with solar panels. The money collected from all ratepayers and taxpayers then is distributed to wealthy homeowners. This has been the result of the major push for solar in Germany.

    In meeting with a number of legislators this week, I got the impression that they are inspired by the example of Germany, the poster country for solar. Using $10 billion annually in subsidies, Germany now has more than a quarter million rooftop solar installations and 40 percent of the world’s solar capacity. The $10 billion is raised by fees on all electric power customers.

    In 2012, Germany produced 28 billion kwh of electricity from solar, 5.5 percent of its total electric demand. Germany also subsidizes large amounts of wind power, and wind and solar combined provided a variable 16 percent of electric demand in 2012. This required backup natural-gas plants to run in inefficient start-stop mode, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, wasting fuel, and stressing machinery.

    Sudden fluctuations from renewables in Germany’s power grid are causing damage to a number of industrial companies. While many of them have responded by getting their own power generators and regulators to help minimize the risks, they warn that companies might be forced to leave if the government doesn’t deal with the issues.

    It was 3 a.m. on a Wednesday when the machines suddenly ground to a halt at Hydro Aluminium in Hamburg. The rolling mill’s highly sensitive monitor stopped production so abruptly that the aluminum belts snagged. They hit the machines and destroyed a piece of the mill. The reason: The voltage off the electricity grid weakened for just a millisecond.

    German customers pay surcharge
    To support Germany’s renewable energy program, electric customers now pay a surcharge of 5.28 euro cents/kwh (7 U.S. cents). That’s more than the 4-5 cents/kwh wholesale cost of electric power production from U.S. fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.

    Jürgen Grossmann, the CEO of Germany’s largest power utility, recently told Der Spiegel magazine that “subsidizing solar panels in Germany was about as useful as growing pineapples in Alaska.” I suggest the same analogy applies to Minnesota.

    Rolf Westgard is a professional member of the Geological Society of America and guest faculty in the University of Minnesota’s Lifelong Learning program. His current class is “America’s climate and energy future; the next 25 years.”

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  8. josephurban says:

    The future is in solar . And nuclear. But the political-corporate interests will continue to support coal, gas and oil until the lobbying money runs out. Future generations will look back on this time period and shake their heads in disbelief at the stupidity and corruption which has lead to the taxpayer subsidized fossil fuel industry. Much like we shake our heads in disbelief at the folks in the Middle Ages who did not understand evolution, the germ theory, etc.

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  9. whungerford says:

    Professor Cathles wrote:
    Having looked at these issues carefully over the last 5 years, my conclusion is that the benefits from natural gas development far outweigh any risks or negatives involved. Natural gas represents a major economic, health, and global warming reduction opportunity, not a threat. I urge you to lift the moratorium on natural gas development and allow communities that wish to proceed to do so. I am not a spokesperson for the gas industry, am not funded by them, and will not benefit any more than anyone else from this decision, but as an academic who has studied the issue carefully I believe that we would be ill advised to walk away from the benefits offered by natural gas.

    This leaves me puzzled. Even if “Natural gas represents a major economic, health, and global warming reduction opportunity,” what’s the hurry to extract and burn up the last whiff of natural gas in NYS now? Hints in Dr. Cathles’ letter are “economic benefits” and to “set an example.”

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  10. josephurban says:

    A different perspective on how fracking interferes with people and their lives. http://josephurban.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/frack-you/

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  11. whungerford says:

    Tom Reed too favors fracking except near his seasonal home on Keuka Lake.

    Like

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