Author Archives: Mark Brownstein

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 , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reins in State Drilling Laws, Stands Up for Localities

Source: Pennlive

Source: Pennlive

Yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stood up for the traditional powers of local governments to decide where — and, to a significant extent, how — oil and gas development happens in their communities. In a 4-2 vote, the Court overturned Act 13, a 2012 state law that had stripped localities of some of their power to decide where the industry can operate. For example, Act 13 required that drilling, waste pits and pipelines be allowed in every zoning district, including residential districts, as long as certain buffers are observed.

That provision and others were challenged in a lawsuit filed by seven Pennsylvania localities. The suit was supported by an amicus brief written by lawyers at Earthjustice and signed by EDF and other environmental groups. We congratulate the local governments on this important victory and thank Earthjustice for its leadership.

This is a big win for local governments because it preserves their right to make sensible land use decisions that can impact quality of life. Home to the gas-rich Marcellus shale basin, Pennsylvania has emerged as the nation’s fastest-growing producer of natural gas and now ranks third in the nation, behind only Texas and Louisiana. Pennsylvania accounts for more than 10 percent of the nation’s total natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Alongside this spike in production, however, serious concerns about air and water quality in the region have also emerged. Read More »

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New Study Launches In Series Evaluating Methane Across The Natural Gas System

Source: San Antonio Business Journal

This year is proving to be a big year for methane research.  We’ve seen a handful of new studies published, some funded by EDF and some not, as well as new projects announced.

The attention methane is getting by the scientific community is justified and overdue. Methane emissions are a central issue in the debate over the role that natural gas may play in our national energy future. From a climate perspective, methane is 72 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2) on a per ounce basis when released into the atmosphere over the first 20 years.  And according to new projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), methane is far more potent than we realized (as much as 84 to 87 times more potent than CO2 on a 20-year basis).

The oil and natural gas industry is the single largest source of manmade methane emissions in the United States. Despite this, little is known about how much methane is released from where across the natural gas supply chain. But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest estimates, we know enough to say that methane poses a serious problem to the climate. Read More »

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Americans For Tax Reform: Another Group That Offers Spin Over Science

This commentary originally appeared on Forbes.

Here we go again.  In recent weeks, we have seen both Senator David Vitter and American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard attempt to mischaracterize the results of the groundbreaking University of Texas at Austin (UT) methane emissions study, preferring self-serving sound bites over an honest read of the data.  And now we are seeing another misinformation campaign coming from Americans for Tax Reform.

In his October 2nd Forbes op-ed, Christopher Prandoni, Federal Affairs Manager for Americans for Tax Reform, uses the UT study to disparage new efforts by the State Department to address methane leakage from the natural gas system.  Prandoni wrongfully claims that the UT study “calculated that average emissions were almost 50 times lower than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates,” and that nothing further needs to be done about methane emissions.

Prandoni’s read of the UT study results couldn’t be further from the truth.  Total emissions from the production sector were found to be in line with the current EPA estimates, not 50 times lower.  Yes, the UT study did report some good news.  Methane emissions from the stage of extraction known as well completions were lower than EPA estimates.  Unfortunately for Prandoni’s argument, these lower-than-expected results were because of new green completion technologies (an emissions control method that routes excess gas to sales), soon to be required by the EPA for all new hydraulically-fractured natural gas wells. Read More »

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Jack Gerard And American Petroleum Institute: Deceiving Congress

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Source: WCN 24/7 Flickr

Given the widespread press coverage of the release of the University of Texas methane emissions study, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spinning a false story about its results. In an email to leaders in Congress, Gerard tells them that there's nothing to worry about. Methane pollution from gas production is low and getting lower. Wrong.

What the study really said is that technology to reduce methane pollution in the transition from drilling a well to full scale production can be very effective at reducing methane emissions when it is deployed – emphasis on when. This is one of the important points Gerard misses, as no national accounting exists to show U.S. producers currently use these methods as a matter of widespread industry practice.

Gerard also conveniently did not tell Congress that the low wellhead emissions detected by the study are the result of EPA regulations adopted last year – rules API lobbied hard to weaken. Gerard further did not explain to Congress that these regulations don't apply to all unconventional gas production today. Meaning the UT study is not an example to of “problem solved, we can all go home.” Read More »

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A New Study Measures Methane Leaks In The Natural Gas Industry

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Source: Penn State Outreach/flickr

Earlier this week, a prestigious scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States.”  This study is the first in a comprehensive research initiative that Environmental Defense Fund is helping to produce with more than 90 partner universities, scientists, research facilities and natural gas industry companies. This effort, the largest scientific undertaking in EDF’s history, is an unprecedented attempt to measure where and how much methane is being released across the entire natural gas supply chain.

By the time the work is finished, around the end of 2014, scientists working with EDF will have completed sixteen studies characterizing methane emissions in five key areas of the natural gas system: production, gathering and processing,transmission and storagelocal distribution and use in operating and fueling heavy and medium weight trucks.

The study that published Monday was led by Dr. David Allen of the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and is based on some of the first-ever direct measurements of methane emissions from shale gas wells that use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Read More »

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Methane Research: The Data Pursuit Continues

Source: Kinder Morgan

Is natural gas really better for the climate? This may seem like a simple question. After all, natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel.  And data from the Energy Information Administration in April showed a downward trend in U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A move many experts believe is largely attributed to the increased production of U.S. natural gas and the shift it has caused in the power sector – old, dirty coal plants being retired because new natural gas plants are more competitive.

But, this is only part of the story. Natural gas is comprised primarily of methane, and unburned methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas – 72 times more powerful than CO2 over the first two decades it is released.

The oil and gas industry is one of the largest domestic sources of methane, and while new gas reserves are being drilled every day,  too little is known about how much and from where methane is leaking out from across the natural gas system. Lack of direct measurements has been a challenge, as EDF’s Chief Scientist Steven Hamburg explains here.

The need for better data to understand and control methane emissions in order to understand the true climate opportunity of natural gas led to EDF’s largest scientific research project. This effort currently involves about 85 academic, research and industry partners subdivided over five areas of the value chain (production, gathering and processing, transmission and storage, local distribution and transportation).  Read More »

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An Old-Timer Reflects On The Importance Of New Technology To Battle Methane Emissions, And What You Can Do About It

Anyone younger than 30 may not understand what a skipping record sounds like;  in their lives, listening to tunes has more often meant hitting a playlist on iTunes or streaming Pandora, than it has meant dusting off an old record. To us “old” folks who remember when clunky 8-track tapes were the height of portable music cool, today’s options are nothing less than astounding.

Believe it or not, I was thinking about this as I participated yesterday in a panel at the World Resource Institute in Washington, D.C. to discuss their new paper titled, “Cleaning the Air: Reducing Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions From U.S. Natural Gas Systems.”  Reviewing the report, and reflecting on EDF’s own work to understand and reduce methane and other air pollution, it’s clear a huge opportunity exists for technology to revolutionize air quality practices in the gas industry, just as it reengineered production and delivery of audio in the music industry. And the prospects are very bright that it will.

Champions of natural gas like to say that natural gas is a preferred fossil fuel alternative to coal and oil because it has less carbon content than either, and therefore, when burned, produces less carbon dioxide, which is the a primary cause of global warming. This is true.

But what is often not said is that natural gas is primarily made up of methane, which itself is a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant, many times more powerful than carbon dioxide, particularly when methane is first released into the atmosphere. Even small leaks at the wellhead or along the infrastructure used to process and transport the gas to our power plants, homes and businesses can undo much of the greenhouse gas benefits we think we are getting when we substitute natural gas for coal or petroleum sources.  Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas | Tagged , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Industry And Environmentalists Make Progress On Fracking

This commentary was originally posted on our EDF Voices blog.

Source: danielfoster437/Flickr

Worthy public policy initiatives get announced every day of the week, and reporters mostly greet them with a shrug. But last week’s announcement of a new center designed to set standards for shale gas development in the Appalachian Basin triggered a wave of media attention.

The Washington Post called the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), “a heartening breakthrough in the war over fracking.” And the Associated Press wrote: “Some of the nation's biggest oil and gas companies have made peace with environmentalists, agreeing to a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast….”

I agree that this is a big deal, and not just because EDF played an important role in the two years of negotiation that led to the formation of this group. It’s a rare to see environmentalists and some of the nation's biggest energy companies working together to improve the safety of natural gas operations.  This coalition is a step in the right direction to better protect the quality of life for people living among the gas fields.

But, I also need to make a few points clear.

First, the standards put forth by CSSD are no substitute for strong regulation and enforcement.   Voluntary efforts by industry leaders help distinguish the best from the rest and raise the bar for all, but the only path to full protection of our air, water, and health is regulation and enforcement that apply to all.    Read More »

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“Promised Land”: A Love Letter To Longmont

Source: The Daily Digger

Promised Land is not a movie about “fracking.” You will be sorely disappointed if you go to the theatre expecting to see lurid visuals of sinister-looking waste water ponds, plumes of diesel soot and road dust, or bucolic landscapes scarred by roads and pipes. You will see none of that.

Promised Land is a movie about what happens before the drilling rigs and man camps rumble into town. It is the story of a rural community, proud but poor, struggling to reconcile itself with an enormous economic opportunity that comes at an enormous cost.

And, despite what you may have read in the blogosphere, it is not reflexively anti-natural gas. The movie actually does a fairly decent job of presenting all sides of the shale gas development debate. I was intrigued to read a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from this past June where John Krasinski, a star in the film and co-author of the screenplay, revealed that he originally conceived the story as a community facing major wind farm development. Krasinski made the switch because natural gas development is more topical, and more visceral, than wind development.  His primary point in making the film was to explore what happens when money and power come to a rural community that has neither.

I suspect the reason why the natural gas industry is so on edge about this movie is because the plot device which propels the story forward is a community referendum on whether development will be allowed within its borders. This is exactly the situation the industry faces in Longmont, Colorado, and to the same or similar degree in many other communities around the country.

The central question the movie poses is whether any amount of potential future prosperity is worth sacrificing a pastoral way of life that has defined a community for generations. Worry over polluted water is part of what fuels the townspeople’s anxiety over what to do, but it is far from their only concern.

Does a community have the right to regulate or prohibit industrial development in its borders?  It’s a tricky legal question currently playing out in Colorado and elsewhere around the country, and there is no simple answer.

One thing is certain: the natural gas industry must be forthcoming and honest about the risks that unconventional oil and gas development create, proactive in taking the steps necessary to minimize those risks, and willing to collect and publicly disclose the data necessary to enable communities to evaluate for themselves whether their health and environment are being fully protected. Many people distrust whether industry can develop shale gas safely, and it’s understandable why they are concerned – especially given recent media reports about industry hiding many of the chemicals they use behind questionable “trade secret” claims.  It appears that even the most basic steps toward greater transparency are grudging and incomplete.

In Promised Land, citizens are repeatedly lied to with predictable results. In real life, the natural gas industry has the ability to write a different story through the actions it takes to address community concerns, measure performance and disclose results. That’s a story I want to see.

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