Author Archives: Mark Brownstein

Tackling Methane Pollution Even When Oil and Gas Markets are Down

9148692_e7baa12adf_oWhen the White House confirmed plans to limit methane pollution from the oil and gas sector — not just from new or heavily modified facilities, but thousands of existing wells, pipelines and other facilities that are currently emitting at least 9.3 million metric tons of the invisible heat-trapping gas each year — industry responded with the usual complaints about back-breaking costs.

Unlike recent years, those objections come with a twist: The widespread (and very real) challenges in an oil and gas sector struggling with a global supply glut and sharply lower prices, both enabled by the same unconventional production technologies that fueled the boom in the first place. We simply shouldn’t impose new regulations in a down market, the industry says.

To be clear: There’s no disputing these are tough times for oil and gas. Hard working Americans have lost good jobs by the tens of thousands. Communities are suffering. It’s a cycle familiar to anyone who’s been around the industry, even if that doesn't make it any easier on people living through it now. Read More »

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

Do Lower Gas Prices Alter Conclusion of the ICF Study on Methane Reduction Costs?

hqdefaultLast week, the industry-sponsored Energy In Depth (EID) launched a critique of an analysis by ICF International showing that oil and gas companies can achieve major reductions in their methane emissions at relatively modest cost relative to the price of the natural gas they’re selling. In particular, EID emphasizes that natural gas prices have fallen substantially since the study was done, undercutting the result.

It’s true that natural gas prices have dropped, but the basic conclusion of the study still stands. While commodity prices fluctuate, the fundamental rationale for action hasn’t changed. In fact, over the same timeframe, EPA and other estimates of industry emissions have increased dramatically.

The bottom line is that reducing oil and gas methane emissions remains one of the biggest, most cost-effective opportunities we have for addressing climate change. Read More »

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When The Polluter Lobby Pollutes The Facts on Methane

The oil and gas industry emits at least 7 million metric tons of methane pollution into the atmosphere each year with a growing mountain of scientific evidence that suggests the real amount is actually even higher. Despite the fact that this pollution has an undue effect on global warming, the industry effectually wants us to “be ok” with this pollution.

The latest piece from industry lobbying group Energy In Depth (EID) claims that recent methane research finds “very low emissions,” and that regulatory action to reduce them further is unwarranted. It isn’t the first time we’ve heard this argument and for that reason, here’s a refresher on the facts.

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Fatal Flaws In EPA’s Latest Voluntary Methane Program Highlight Need For Concrete Rules

Barn snip 3The Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program unveiled last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a perfect example of what can go wrong when the agency tries too hard to entice an unwilling industry to engage.

For years, EPA has offered voluntary “pollution prevention” programs to encourage companies to achieve environmental goals faster or cheaper than they might under regulations alone. Done right, voluntary programs stimulate innovation and reward true leaders. But weak efforts accomplish nothing, handing out laurels for token efforts that amount to business as usual – or less.

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The California Gas Disaster: What Comes Next and Where Else Could it Happen?

storage_2013The ongoing leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility owned by Southern California Gas has driven more than 2,000 families from their homes in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles and prompted Gov. Brown to declare a state of emergency. It’s dumped an estimated 83 thousand metric tons of methane into the atmosphere so far (see our leak counter here), with no clear end in sight.

But what are the next steps from here? What are the wider implications of this continuing disaster; and where else could something like this happen? What do we do to prevent another Aliso, and how will Southern California make up for the environmental damages once the leak stops?

The troubling fact is that Aliso Canyon is just the tip of a very big iceberg, reflecting both the industry’s widespread methane problem, and the potential local risks of over 400 other storage facilities nationwide. It spotlights a longstanding, largely invisible problem, promising to shift political dynamics around solutions. And the penalty phase, when it comes, will hopefully codify important principles that will also have a big effect on industry behavior. Read More »

Posted in Aliso Canyon, California, General, Methane, Natural Gas| Read 2 Responses

EPA Methane Rule: A Good Start Toward Meeting Administration’s Landmark Goal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a big step this week, announcing the nation’s first methane pollution standards for the oil and gas industry. But to understand the impact of these new draft rules, it’s important to look at what they do – and what they don’t – and measure them against the nation’s bold but readily achievable goals set out by the Obama administration earlier this year.

The president’s target of reducing methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent in the next decade is historic – currently there are no national limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. It’s also critical to protecting the climate and public health – methane packs more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe, and is released along with other toxic pollutants.

The scale of the problem is massive, with industry releasing more than 7 million tons of methane each year. It could also be even bigger than we realize. A new study published just this week reported unrecorded methane emissions from thousands of facilities in only one part of the supply chain. It concluded gathering facility emissions were eight times higher than estimated, a staggering figure that if included in EPA’s inventory would increase current estimates of total industry emissions by 20 percent. 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.

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