Fracking is Dirtier Than Coal Mining, Claims Study That T. Boone Should Probably Read

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The Pickens Plan -- Dallas oilman T. Boone Pickens's plan to equip every American with his very own riding natural-gas fracker -- is enjoying a wave of consensus not seen since The Simple Life got canceled.

Pickens's latest pitch for an OPEC-free America would give large tax breaks to manufacturers who build natural gas-powered vehicles. It has bipartisan support in congress and is pre-authorized by the president, and recently earned a friendly pat on the ass from the New York Times, where Pickens's personal friend, former Texas Monthly senior editor Joe Nocera, lobbied for the bill on its op-ed page.

So: Drill, baby, drill, right? Especially in Texas, where, as Schutze pointed out recently, we've been secretly letting the fracking industry skate on its taxes. Soon, Pickens's vision goes, our cars will run cleaner, our icecaps will be sturdier, and Middle East rebels will be standing gunless in the street, wondering where all the jets went.

If only those pesky scientists would just go with the gas flow.

A controversial new study, authored by a Cornell ecologist and published in the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change Letters -- the best peer-reviewed climate journal out there, if you ask me -- argues that drilling for natural gas is actually worse for the climate than coal. And he gathered the bulk of his evidence in Texas.

You can read the study yourself, which I heartily endorse, assuming you suffer from severe sleep deprivation. But the gist is this: When drillers go fracking -- using water pressure to break up shale rock formations in search of natural gas -- as much as 8 percent of the methane they're trying to trap sneaks into the atmosphere, like one of those really elusive crackheads on Cops. And that amount of methane, over time, has a much bigger impact on our climate than carbon dioxide.

The study is the work of Robert Howarth, who appears to be some sort of professional pain in the ass to the fracking industry -- a worthy profession, to be sure. (Schutze is the secretary of Local 564, part of the Frack Disturber Union.) Critics jumped on the study early and often, questioning Howarth's data and disputing his conclusion that any methane that isn't trapped can be assumed to be floating around the atmosphere. I guess they think some of it goes to the movies or something.

The study is being passed among eco-nerds like a biodegradable plastic bong. It won't stop the Pickens Plan, but it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens when it and more studies like it find their way into the hands of more media and more lawmakers.

Those guys do read scientific journals, don't they?

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