Author Archives: Mark Brownstein

Dope Deal: Wall Street Journal Falls for Methane “Facts” Cooked by Industry

Source: flickr.com/photos/earthworksWhen credibility is your stock in trade, it’s important to have your facts straight. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal blew it.

In an unsigned opinion piece dubbed “Meth Heads in the White House,” the paper dismisses plans expected to be announced by the Obama administration in the next few weeks that would start to tackle the huge amount of methane leaking from America’s oil & gas production facilities.

The question is a significant one, because – as the article notes in passing – methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas (in point of fact, packing more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20 year time frame). According to EPA data, oil & gas operations emit roughly 8 million metric tons of unburned methane annually, enough gas to heat nearly 6 million homes. Read More »

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

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| Comments closed

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 »

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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
  • 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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