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Energy and the Environment

Shale Gas and Methane Emissions

Shale gas: A major focus of the Howarth-Marino lab since 2009 has been the environmental consequences of shale gas developed through high-volume hydraulic fracturing, with an emphasis on estimating the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas as well as conventional natural gas. In 2011, Howarth and colleagues published the first ever peer-reviewed article on the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas that included methane emissions. This work has been highly visible, resulting in Howarth being named as one of Time Magazine’s 50 “People Who Matter” in the 2011 Person of the Year issue.

Effects of biofuels on global change and the environment

From 2007 to 2012, Howarth chaired the International SCOPE Biofuels Project, an effort chartered by the International Council of Science (ICSU) to critically evaluate the consequences of liquid biofuels on global warming and other environmental effects. Howarth also served on the United Nations Environment Programs’ committee that evaluated the environmental consequences of biofuels. Both the ICSU and UNEP reports are very critical of current production of ethanol from corn, noting the high environmental costs including increased coastal nitrogen pollution and indirect land-use changes that aggravate global warming, as well as the relatively small amount of energy produced. The reports recommend instead using solid biomass for direct combustion to coproduce heat and electricity.

Energy without fossil fuels

Howarth is part of a team led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford that in the spring of 2013 published a blueprint for making the State of New York completely free of fossil fuels, and powering the economy of the state on renewable energy from wind, solar, and water by 2030.

Ecological effects of oil pollution

Howarth and Marino both have a long-standing interest in the ecological effects of oil pollution in the oceans, including from oil spills and chronic oil pollution from offshore oil development and cities. Howarth was an expert witness in the federal court case that first postponed oil development off the coast of New England in the 1970s, served on the panel of the ecological effects of oil pollution for a National Academy of Sciences in the early 1980s, was the lead consultant for the Attorney General of Alaska on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the late 1980s, and was a consultant for the US Justice Department on the settlement for the 2010 Deep-water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.