Author Archives: Mark Brownstein

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.

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Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , , , | 1 Response, comments now 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:

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Posted in Clean Energy, Methane, Natural Gas| 5 Responses, comments now 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| 1 Response, comments now 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 , | 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 »

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

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 »

Posted in Natural Gas| 2 Responses, comments now closed

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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