Author Archives: Mark Brownstein

Sizing Up EPA’s New Voluntary Methane Reduction Program

Flare tanks credit Earthworks

The U.S. oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere in 2013, a three percent increase over 2012 – that’s an amount of gas worth nearly $2 billion, and enough to supply about 6 million American homes. The sector is the largest source of industrial methane pollution in the country. And not even the industry disputes that methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

So what are we going to do about it?

Earlier this year, the Administration took the first and most important step so far, setting a national goal to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent over the next ten years (to achieve this, rules will need to cover both new and existing emitters, but that’s another story). The first round of proposed regulations is due later this summer.

In the meantime, yesterday EPA released the draft framework for its updated voluntary Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program. Well-designed voluntary initiatives like this one have always been a potential complement to concrete rules, helping to define and showcase best practices. We commend the agency on this new effort.

But did EPA hit the mark – will this program achieve real, measurable, verifiable benefits for the environment? Does it fairly recognize and reward those companies that step up to innovate and lead? Let’s take a closer look at the proposal against a list of critical elements necessary for an effective voluntary program. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| 1 Response

Four Things to Look for in EPA’s New Voluntary Methane Reduction Proposal

Barn snip 3The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is soon expected to propose its new “enhanced” Natural Gas STAR program, providing guidelines for oil and gas companies that want to voluntarily work to reduce their methane emissions. Calls for voluntary measures by industry to address this pollution have increased in recent months, as the EPA is set to release its  first-ever methane rules this summer.

While voluntary efforts can be helpful in establishing new technologies or practices, and validating industry’s ability to meet regulatory benchmarks, opt-in programs alone are no substitute for effective regulation that will reduce energy waste and better protect public health. As we’ve said before, current voluntary programs have an extremely low rate of company participation.

In fact, EPA’s current Natural Gas STAR membership includes less than one half of one percent of all oil and gas producers and operators. Therefore, any update to the program should be seen as an adjunct to long-overdue rules that set sensible emission limits for the industry. That’s the only way to set a level playing field for the approximately 10,000 operators that are part of this rapidly expanding oil and gas industry. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Leave a comment

Oil & Gas Industry Mangles More Facts, Turns EDF Study Results Upside Down

Barnett graphic high res

Click to enlarge.

Here we go again.

A new set of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to 50 percent higher than estimated regional methane emissions from oil and gas operations in Texas were published this week. And like clockwork, the oil and gas industry’s public relations machine, Energy In Depth, proclaimed that rising emissions are actually falling, and that the industry’s meager voluntary efforts are responsible.

This is, of course, wrong on both counts. In fact, it’s a willful misrepresentation of the findings.

First, the assertion that emissions are going down is flat wrong. EPA’s latest inventory released in April reports that in 2013 the oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere from their operations—a three percent increase over 2012—making it the largest industrial source of methane pollution. So much for those voluntary efforts. Read More »

Posted in General, Methane, Natural Gas| Read 4 Responses

Senate GOP Letter on EPA Methane Rule Misstates the Facts

A group of Republican Senators sent a letter to the White House yesterday questioning the administration's plans to begin regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. While EDF welcomes their engagement, the Senators' characterization of the problem, their representation of emissions data, and their reference to research funded by EDF are flatly incorrect.

The facts are these: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas—packing 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. That means it's a serious challenge, but also a huge opportunity to put the brakes on climate change quickly and cost-effectively. EPA’s latest inventory released in April estimates that in 2013, the oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere from their operations—a three percent increase over 2012—making it the largest industrial source of methane pollution. That’s enough to meet the needs of 5 million households, and packs the same short-term climate punch as the CO2 emissions from more than 160 coal-fired power plants. Read More »

Posted in General, Methane, Natural Gas| Comments are closed

EPA Looks at Fracking Risks to Water: No Data, No Problem?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-awaited draft report on impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing on drinking water last week, completing the most extensive scientific review of published data to date. At nearly 1,000 pages, it’s a substantial report. But it’s nowhere near a comprehensive evaluation – or even enumeration – of the risks that oil and gas development poses to both surface and ground water.

The biggest issues aren’t what’s in the document, but what isn’t. For all its heft, the biggest lesson in the report is just how little we actually know about these critical risks.

Read More »

Posted in Natural Gas| Tagged , | Read 2 Responses

Reducing Methane Emissions: Voluntary Efforts Alone Won’t Get the Job Done

7992041702_8a1bbdcd1e_zIn January, the White House announced the ambitious goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40 to 45 percent over the next ten years. It was a landmark moment and a step toward making a great impact on greenhouse emissions and their effects on the climate by reducing a potent pollutant. Now, we await the rules EPA will propose later this summer to begin making that goal a reality.

In the coming days the EPA is expected to preview one piece of the plan the administration announced in January – Enhanced Natural Gas STAR, a program to enable companies to commit to voluntary actions to reduce emissions, and document progress toward achieving those commitments. The program is an important opportunity to ensure transparent and rigorous reporting of voluntary efforts to reduce emissions, but it is not a substitute for strong regulations and it is not the only step the administration has committed to taking. In its package of proposed rules that the administration has committed to release later this summer, the federal government will set, for the first time, methane emission limits from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry, and is being called upon to implement rules to address leaks from existing sources as well. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Comments are closed
  • Vice President, Climate and Energy Program
    Mark Brownstein is a Vice President in the Climate and Energy Program at Environmental Defense Fund.

    Follow Mark on Twitter »

  • About this Blog

    EDF Energy Exchange - Accelerating the clean energy revolution

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

    Follow EDFEnergyEX

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Categories

  • Authors