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A Step Back at Energy With Ernest Moniz

President Obama’s nomination of Ernest Moniz for secretary of energy is a serious blow to environmentalists. Appearing before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources yesterday, Moniz strongly supported an “all-of-the-above” strategy and emphasized that lowering the cost of energy should be the United States’ top priority.

Moniz, a former advisor to both British Petroleum and General Electric, spoke highly of natural gas production especially, advocated continued use of nuclear and coal energy, and offered consensual silence on the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

As director of the MIT Energy Initiative, Moniz and his colleagues released a report in 2011 that encourages the production of natural gas as a stable, profitable, and environmentally friendly endeavor. The report, however, came under attack by groups such as Public Citizen and the Food & Water Watch for being funded by energy company giants such as BP, Shell and Saudi Aramco.

Chairman and CEO of Duke Energy James Rogers has said that natural gas is the “crack cocaine” of electric power because of the extreme highs and lows in prices. The market price of gas, for example, could vacillate between $3-12 per thousand cubic feet in 2009 within 18 months.

The problems that arise from natural gas drilling, which I wrote about earlier this year, are sprouting up only recently because it’s a new industry that hasn’t been adequately studied. For Moniz to push production of shale so soon is either foolish or a good business move—evidence shows the latter.

Kevin Connor of the Public Accountability Initiative insists that the report, rather than being a true scientific inquiry, “was designed to influence policy makers. . . . Not only was it funded by industry; it was also authored by industry.”

2012 Cornell study also repudiates MITEI’s claims that natural gas production is healthier for the environment. The study shows that methane leakage from hydraulic fracturing could be worse for the atmosphere than coal or oil. Methane is about 30 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

The study was bolstered when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado at Boulder measured methane leakage in Colorado and Utah and found that rates matched or even surpassed levels reported in the study.

“I received my Ph.D. from MIT and have a huge amount of respect still for the institution,” says Robert Howarth. “However, their industry-funded work on natural gas has been extremely biased since the start. At best, it represents shoddy scholarship, but often comes closely to plain out advocacy for the industry standpoint. 

“This has happened under Moniz’s leadership,” he finally says, “which should make him unacceptable for the Department of Energy position.”