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Dueling NY studies over natural gas climate impact

ALBANY — Two groups of scientists at Cornell University are dueling over whether natural gas from shale is better or worse than coal when it comes to global climate change.

It’s a significant question because proponents of shale gas development using the controversial practice of high-volume hydraulic fracturing argue that natural gas is a cleaner-burning “bridge fuel” from the age of coal to an era of wind, solar and other sustainable energy sources.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that unconventional gas, mainly from shale, will supply nearly half of U.S. gas production by 2035. One of the core benefits of tapping vast shale gas reserves such as the Marcellus Shale beneath southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, is the belief that it produces less greenhouse gas than coal.

Opponents of shale development cite potential damage to health and the environment, especially water supplies, from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which injects a well with chemically treated water to stimulate production. They also have seized on the greenhouse gas study published by Cornell’s Robert Howarth last spring.