Park Service chief withdraws ‘fracking’ comments

The National Park Service (NPS) is walking back comments that showcased doubts about whether natural gas development can help battle climate change, acknowledging they “did not receive appropriate review.”

NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, in a letter to a House Republican, withdrew the unsigned comments that the service sent months ago to a separate federal agency crafting regulations on hydraulic fracturing.

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Jarvis, in his mid-November letter to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), said nobody in management reviewed the staff comments and that their handling was “contrary” to NPS protocol.

The NPS sent the comments in August to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is crafting rules to govern hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — on federal and Indian lands.

The comments enraged the gas industry by citing an op-ed by a Cornell professor who believes development of shale gas — the stuff tapped by fracking — is a “gangplank to more [global] warming” due to leaks of the greenhouse gas methane.

Bishop criticized the NPS citation of the New York Times op-ed in a letter to Jarvis in September.

Jarvis, in the letter to Bishop, said the inclusion of a quote from Professor Anthony Ingraffea’s op-ed was “inappropriate” and that the wide-ranging comments on BLM’s proposal had other problems.

“Citations to peer-reviewed scientific studies should have been referenced to support the technical comments that were submitted. In addition, the comments did not receive appropriate review and were not signed. For these reasons, I have requested that the comments be withdrawn from the record,” Jarvis writes.

Jarvis also said in the letter to Bishop that he has taken steps to ensure that all comments are appropriately reviewed.

Bishop slammed the Obama administration as he released the Jarvis letter Tuesday.

“This thinly veiled attempt to vilify energy production and hydraulic fracturing on our public lands illustrates a shared agenda between the Administration and anti-energy special interest groups,” he said in a statement.

“I’m pleased that Director Jarvis will rescind the comments and hope that, moving forward, the NPS will direct their efforts toward promoting the responsible use of our diverse lands and resources and away from misleading the American people,” added Bishop, the chairman of the Natural Resources Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee.

The NPS comments and their aftermath represent just one skirmish in the battle over the role of natural gas in climate policy.

Natural gas produces far less carbon emissions than coal when burned to create electricity, and backers including Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz have pointed to gas development as a near-term way to curb heat-trapping emissions.

But leakage of the potent greenhouse gas methane from wells and other points along the development chain have sparked concerns that the emissions could badly erode or even erase the climate benefits of swapping coal for gas.

A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that overall U.S. methane emissions are much higher than previous estimates.

The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog has much more on the study here.