"How clean is natural gas? Although it is often lumped in with coal and oil, many in the energy industry are at pains to point out that burning gas to generate electricity produces fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than does burning other fossil fuels. Certainly, countries claim reductions in carbon emissions when they switch from coal to gas, as Britain did on a large scale in the 1990s...Industry maintains that the problem has been exaggerated, and many scientists agree. Sorting fact from fiction has been difficult, however, because nobody had any independent data — until now.
As discussed on page 139, a study led by scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), headquartered in Washington DC, and the University of Colorado in Boulder looked at methane and other emissions from a natural-gas field north of Denver, where fracking methods are used to open up sand formations. They estimated cumulative emissions from the field using not industry reports or conceptual models, but concentrations of pollutants in air samples. This is important because the atmosphere does not misrepresent data or make mistakes; nor does it bend to ideology or political will.
The data suggest that methane emissions from natural-gas operations could be substantially higher — and so be worse for global warming — than was thought. At works in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, methane emissions were roughly double the official estimate.
This will by no means settle the debate. The NOAA scientists had to make assumptions to convert atmospheric data to cumulative emissions from a vast energy complex. They readily acknowledge substantial uncertainty in their calculations, and estimate that between 2% and 8% of the methane produced from wells in the Denver-Julesburg Basin is lost to the atmosphere, with a best guess of 4%."
Wasn't that a perfect setup? "This is important because the atmosphere does not misrepresent data or make mistakes; nor does it bend to ideology or political will." So then how come "this will by no means settle the debate"? We have ideologically/politically neutral data? What's the problem?
This is a perfect example of the Achilles Heel of science: making a conclusion from data. It is such a fragile endeavor because it involves human beings and their thoughts and their biases. That is when assumptions are made and logic is applied. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that any conclusion reached is correct. This is why we have climate change deniers - not because of data, but because of the conclusions made from it.
How can Nature publish an editorial like this that is so removed from an understanding of how science works?