Bob Howarth Seeks Relevance with Still More Pseudo-Science

Tom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


Bob Howarth, long forgotten by most, returns with yet another pseudo-science study attacking natural gas development based on totally bizarre methane claims.

I participated in a debate with Bob Howarth at Cornell several years ago. His star was already starting to fade then and he later mostly dropped from sight, after being panned by dozens of scientists for what were clearly outrageous claims. Now, he’s back with a piece of junk science published in a backwater European journal called Biogeosciences. His latest work is stuffed with the sort of thing you find with pseudo-science; lots of formulas combined with brash agenda-ridden statements. It appears to be a desperate attempt by Bob Howarth to regain relevance.

Whatever Bob Howarth’s real motives, this work is yet another infuriating attempt by his enablers and funders at the Park Foundation to invent science that supports their politics. Nicole Jacobs at Energy In Depth, absolutely demolishes it here. Before getting to some of her findings, let’s consider some of things you have to accept to give the slightest credibility to Bob Howarth’s latest study:

  1. You have to believe Bob Howarth, a board member of the high-octane fractivist group Food & Water Watch can conduct an objective analysis of natural gas development.
  2. You must accept that taking money from the Park Foundation, one of the major funders of fractivist causes, to conduct the study won’t compromise the results.
  3. You must be comfortable with peer reviews and study participation by Tony the Tiger Ingraffea, Bob Howarth’s wife Roxanne Marino who doubles as an anti-fracking Town Supervisor and “Texas Sharon” Wilson who, like Ingraffea, is associated with Earthworks and has an anti-fracking blog.
  4. You need to ignore the relationship between Ingraffea, the Park Foundation and Earthworks, all of which are connected to Fractivist Rasputin, Jay Halfon.
  5. You need to agree with Bob Howarth that none of the above facts create any reportable conflict of interest, as stated in the journal publishing it.

If you checked all five of the above and you imagine there could still be some science involved, as opposed to another orchestrated fractivist initiative, then there are these problems from the EID-Climate story:

Howarth’s conclusions were called “far-reaching” and “premature by one of the anonymous experts tasked by Biogeosciences to review the research prior to publication, who explained:

The advice to move as quickly as possible away from natural gas based on this study does not appear sufficiently conclusive…”

The research, which Howarth stressed multiple times during the journal’s review process is “in the ‘Ideas & Perspectives’ category and is not a traditional research paper,” also met a healthy dose of skepticism from the scientific community. As Newsweek reports:

“Quentin Fisher, professor of petroleum geoengineering at the U.K.’s University of Leeds, said he was ‘deeply skeptical’ about the study. ’The results are extremely sensitive to highly questionable assumptions regarding the isotopic composition of methane found in shale. The arguments made by previous studies that increase in methane in the atmosphere is from biogenic sources, such as release from wetlands and agriculture or burning of biomass, seem far more convincing.’” (emphasis added)

Fisher’s criticism is likely the first of many if Howarth’s previous research track record of rejections is any indicator. Here are four key facts to keep in mind when reading the study’s media coverage…

In 2011, Howarth teamed up with Ingraffea on a study that alleged methane leaks from oil and natural gas systems to be around 7 to 8 percent – for context, most studies estimate leakage rates to be between 1.1 and 1.7 percent. Even the Environmental Defense Fund’s estimate of a 2.3 percent rate, which is roughly 60 percent higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, is far below Howarth’s 2011 estimate or his new study’s estimate of 3.5 percent leakage.

Notably, the scientific community quickly and thoroughly debunked the 2011 research. Here are just a few examples of what was said:

Bob Howarth

Nonetheless, Howarth cites this research several times as a basis for his calculations throughout the new study, including in his new methane leakage rate estimate:

“For this first sensitivity analysis, we modify equations Eq. (9) through Eq. (12) with new equations Eq. (A1) through Eq. (A4) to reflect a 50 percent higher emission factor for shale gas than for conventional gas, as proposed in Howarth et al. (2011; see Appendix A).”

Yes, this is junk science, manufactured with Park Foundation money under the careful eyes of Tony the Tiger, Howarth’s wife and Texas Sharon. That’s what Bob means when he describes it as an “ideas and perspectives” category piece. I’d just call it BS.

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9 thoughts on “Bob Howarth Seeks Relevance with Still More Pseudo-Science

    • But, we don’t pretend to be neutral scientists while doing it and my support comes from much more than the gas industry.

    • Vera, are you a “scientist”? Do you have a “scientist card”? According to your logic, the lack of such credentials means ones opinion does not matter, including your own.

      Talk about genuflecting to “High Priests and Priestesses in Lab Coats”!.. Shall we all go back the good ol’ days when human sacrifices were conducted to “appease the seasonal gods”??

      We have had 4 to 5 major Ice Ages happen on Planet Earth that we know of and many mini ones as well…so what caused the climate to change back then long before the invention of the internal combustion engine??

      We have geological proof that they happened and will continue to happen long after the human race is extinct. Oh yeah, “Geology” happens to be a “science” as well.

  1. You do know there are 2 sides? You have seen quite a bit. I think you saw something you weren’t expecting. Something that isn’t proper & goes against regulations. I think it should have given you quite an opinion about your employer.

    • My only employer is myself. I am a consultant and get support from the industry and landowners. I get no W-2 from anyone and I make my own decisions about what I write about and what I publish. That’s why I always publish what you have to say.

      • Tom is to be congratulated for allowing anyone to speak their mind on his site. I have been censored more times than I care to remember by solar Facebook sites, the Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin that, years ago, used to occasionally publish my op – eds but now apparently has a rabid anti for an editor as I have submitted well over 15 opinions that found the delete key. That paper sucks big time. Yet the anti op eds continue to flow unabated. Vera’s side OWNS the media.

      • “I am a consultant and get support from the industry and landowners.”

        TF: Not from the landowners who know how to GET MORE MONEY from the industry.

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