ITHACA, NY – Tompkins may be nicely ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Or it may be worryingly behind.

According to a new report released by the Tompkins County planning department, the Tompkins community — including governments, higher education institutions, residents, non-profit organizations, and businesses — cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent from 2008 to 2014.

The Tompkins government  itself has also made great strides in reducing emissions from county buildings and vehicles, cutting them by 52 percent from 2008 levels.

For context, during the Paris climate summit, the United States pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by around 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, scaling up to 26 to 28 percent down from 2005 levels by 2025.

Tompkins County specifically is aiming for a 20 percent reduction by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. If these numbers are accurate, it means Tompkins is four years ahead of schedule.

Fracking impacts across state lines

However, this all comes with one really big caveat.

Since 2008, the county has shifted much of its energy supply to natural gas provided by shale fracking in Pennsylvania. A side effect of this fracking is that methane leaks and escapes into the atmosphere.

According to the report, the science on climate change is evolving and the latest projections show that methane is much more harmful to the environment than originally accounted for. According to the report, methane is 80 to 100 times more harmful to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide, over a 20-year timeframe.

The newest science indicates that even at only 5 percent methane leakage, the other reductions in the county’s overall greenhouse gas emissions would be completely negated — they would in fact increase by 3 percent.

At the higher end, assuming 19 percent methane leakage, the county’s overall greenhouse gas emissions would increase by a staggering 143 percent.

“Emissions associated with the use of fracked shale gas are calculated very differently depending on whether one uses currently accepted GHG accounting, or if the findings of evolving climate science on methane are applied,” said Deputy Commissioner of Planning Katherine Borgella in a press release.

”Although the inventories are calculated using widely-accepted international protocols, it is important to recognize the significance of methane emissions and look ahead to what may soon be modifications to those protocols to better understand the extreme impacts shale gas may have in the near term,” she continued.

The report says that this evolving science points to the need for a transition to more renewable energy sources as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there’s a bit of a silver lining: the new report showed that renewable energy generation in the County increased by 136 percent since 2008.

The report will be officially presented to the Tompkins County Legislature on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the legislature chambers at 121 East Court Street.


Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.