Author Archives: Mark Brownstein

New Study Confirms the Need for National Methane Policy

1At a time when the oil and gas industry claims that methane emissions from their well sites are coming down, here’s a study that adds scientific weight to the argument that emissions may actually be HIGHER than they claim.

A new study by researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, published today in Environmental Science and Technology, took a look at two key processes in oil and gas production – pneumatic controllers and liquids unloading – and concluded that average methane emissions from pneumatic controllers are 17 percent higher than the estimates industry has been citing, and total emissions from these devices may be more than twice as high as they’ve been saying. According to the UT study, together, pneumatic controllers and liquids unloadings account for 40 percent of total methane emissions from oil and gas production.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming pollutant. Unnecessary venting and leaking of methane – the key ingredient in the natural gas that we use to heat our homes, cook our food, and power many of our industries  – waste a precious national energy resource. Colorado and a few other states are already taking steps to reduce this waste through sensible regulations that cover oil and gas producers, and within two weeks the federal Environmental Protection Agency will announce what it intends to do about this problem. This latest UT study is further evidence that methane leakage is a national problem and national regulation is urgently needed to reduce this powerful pollutant and set a level playing field for the over 6,000 oil and gas production companies in business in the United States today. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas, Texas| Leave a comment

Strong New Methane Standards Would Stop Waste, Save Money (and Also Protect the Climate)

Copyright: Shutterstock

Copyright: Shutterstock

If you send a bucket to the well, you make sure it doesn’t have a hole in it first. You’re careful that the new milk carton isn’t seeping all over your refrigerator shelf. And you know that a dripping water pipe can mean big problems if you don’t get after it quickly. Leaks are messy, wasteful, and often costly.

That’s why sensible people avoid leaks when they can, and fix them when they need to.

And it’s why oil and gas companies should be fixing thousands of leaks that are letting at least $1.7 billion dollars’ worth of natural gas vent or leak from their well sites, pipelines, and local gas delivery systems every year. The waste is enough natural gas to heat five million homes a year.

It’s bad enough to waste a valuable commodity. What’s worse is that unburned natural gas, which is mostly methane, has a potent effect on the climate, packing over 80 times more warming power than carbon dioxide over the first twenty years of a methane molecule in the atmosphere. And that leaking methane is frequently accompanied by smog-forming pollution. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Comments closed

Why EPA’s Press Release Doesn’t Reflect the Real Methane Emissions Numbers

Source: Dan Lurie

Source: Dan Lurie

At first glance, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sept. 30 press release looked like a winner: Methane emissions from the oil and gas sector dropped by 12 percent in 2013, with a  whopping 73-percent decline from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells making up the largest share of reductions.

The drop in methane emissions shows how effective regulation is in reducing air pollution from oil and gas production. It was led by an early phase of EPA’s air pollution rules, enacted in October 2012, with full implementation expected by January 2015. (Although this regulation targets emissions of volatile organic compounds, it has also reduced methane as a co-benefit.)

Except, the 73- percent decline is not the whole story. It only accounts for 2.3 percent of the total methane emissions reported to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, leaving a large amount of tons on the table addressed.

Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Five Reasons Now is the Time for Federal Standards to Reduce Oil and Gas Methane Emissions

natgas flare

Source: Tim Evanson Flickr

Today sixteen leaders of the nation’s largest environmental and conservation groups, including EDF’s president Fred Krupp, came together to call for urgent federal action to curb methane emissions from oil and gas development.

This past march, President Obama laid out his Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, where he announced that the Environmental Protection Agency will decide by this fall how best to reduce methane pollution from the oil and gas sector. The Strategy builds on the commitment from his 2012 State of the Union Address that the development of oil and gas resources must not put Americans' health and safety at risk.

Here are five reasons why reducing methane is a national priority that requires the Obama administration to follow through on its commitment:

Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Methane, Natural Gas| Comments closed

McKibben and EDF Agree: Plugging Methane Leaks "A Huge Priority"

Methane is flared from a natural gas well site.

Methane is flared from a natural gas well site.

Bill McKibben is at it again—using his formidable analytical and rhetorical skills to challenge comfortable climate assumptions. In this case, the author and activist puts the heat on politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who argue that natural gas can be a “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon energy future.

Since natural gas emits half the carbon of coal when it’s burned, supporting it gives politicians a way to position themselves as both pro-energy and pro-climate. But writing in Mother Jones, Bill questions whether switching from coal- to natural gas-fired electric generation brings any climate benefit at all.

Because natural gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas, he points out that if enough uncombusted methane is leaking from the natural gas supply chain, natural gas may be even worse for the climate than coal.

We couldn’t agree more. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Methane, Natural Gas, Renewable Energy| Comments closed

Practical Air Pollution Controls Even the Oil and Gas Industry Can't Deny

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

methane_animation_still-1_0Everyone knows that if you want your kids to grow up strong and healthy, they need to eat their vegetables. But as any parent knows, it’s easier said than done. That’s why in my house, there is a rule: you can’t have any dessert until you eat your vegetables.

Now, of course, my kids like to argue with me and my wife about exactly how many vegetables they have to eat and whether they can reach into the fridge and select a different vegetable if they don’t like the one she or I cooked that night. That’s okay. We like to encourage creative problem solving. But there’s no getting around the rule. You must eat your vegetables.

As I see it, methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is a lot like kids and vegetables. Reducing it is good for them, but we have to have a rule that requires them to do it. Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Colorado, Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , | Comments closed
  • About the author

    Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel of the US Energy and Climate Program
    Mark Brownstein is the Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel of the US Energy and Climate Program at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and he leads EDF’s natural gas efforts.

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    EDF's energy experts discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy.

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