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Exclusive: Nature fires back at EIA shale gas critique

The journal Nature stands by the accuracy of a feature questioning the longevity of the growth in U.S. shale natural gas, the features editor said Thursday.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration took issue this week with an article published by Nature, in which Texas researchers said a detailed analysis of U.S. shale plays may be "bad news" for forecasters.

Policymakers on Capitol Hill have said the glut of natural gas means the United States should transform itself as a major exporter of liquefied natural gas, arguing such deliveries may contribute to the rise of the country as an "energy superpower."

Tad Patzek, director of petroleum engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, said in the Nature report EIA assessments of shale were setting U.S. policymakers up "for a major fiasco."

In a Dec. 15 retort, EIA countered the Nature article was filled with "inaccurate and distorting reporting." It further questioned Patzek's role in the research supporting the article, saying he had only a limited role in the actual studies.

"It might also be appropriate for the article to inform readers that Patzek is a leading figure in the peak oil community, which emphasizes concerns related to limitations on the availability of hydrocarbon resources," EIA Deputy Administrator Howard Gruenspecht said in his response.

Richard Monastersky, features editor for Nature, told UPI the journal stands by the accuracy of its reporting. Before publication, editors discussed the data and the feature itself with researchers at the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology as well as EIA.

"Nature's article did discuss uncertainties in all such projections or forecasts, and noted that the EIA produces a variety of cases or scenarios," he said. "Before our feature was published, the EIA was given the opportunity to comment on some of the specifics that it is now highlighting in its letter, but it did not respond."

EIA's Gruenspecht countered the article in question was reminiscent of a New York Times feature from 2011 that cited "insiders" casting doubt on the future of the U.S. gas sector. That article was later found to be deeply flawed by the newspaper's public editor.

Advances in drilling technologies covered under the banner of fracking have given energy companies ways to extract from shale natural gas that were previously out of reach. According to EIA, shale gas production is set to increase through 2040.

This week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of extracting natural gas after a years-long study by environmental and health officials.

Given the abundance of natural gas available in the Marcellus and underlying Utica areas in and around Pennsylvania, to New York's west, Karen Moreau, a regional director for the American Petroleum Institute, said the ban is an economic blow to the state's potential livelihood.

"This is the wrong direction for New York," she said.

Texas researchers said production from the four largest shale plays in the United States -- including Marcellus -- peaks in 2020. By 2030, production is about half of what they said EIA analysis found.

EIA's Gruenspecht called on Nature to provide more "insightful and scientific coverage" of the topic.

"Nature stands by its reporting and the accuracy of the news feature," Monastersky replied.

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