Author Archives: Mark Brownstein

Oil and Gas Lobby Says Up Means Down

Marcellus_Shale_Gas_Drilling_Tower_1_cropThe Environmental Protection Agency just released the draft of its yearly greenhouse gas emissions inventory. It shows in no uncertain terms that methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector are going in the wrong direction: Up.

Emissions from this overall sector are up two percent in 2013, which includes emissions from oil (petroleum) systems which were at their highest levels ever since estimates began in 1990 – and up 68 percent since 2005. Emissions from natural gas processing, where impurities are removed to produce pipeline quality gas, are up 38 percent since 2005. From transmission and storage: Up 11 percent.

Yet the industry’s public relations machine says emissions are falling. So what’s the disconnect? Read More »

Posted in General, Methane, Natural Gas| 1 Response

Fly-by: What the Latest Aerial Study of Methane Emissions Tells Us

lockheed1In the summer of 2013, researchers aboard a four-engine P-3 Orion aircraft – a variant of the plane used by the U.S. Navy to track submarines – flew over three of the nation’s biggest shale gas regions, taking measurements that would allow them to estimate the amount of methane leaking from the production fields below.

The team from University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory published their findings this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, adding new depth to our understanding of methane leaks, but also underscoring important questions.

Comparing their readings to production figures for the region, they estimated a total leak rate of 0.18 to 2.8 percent, which is at the low end of the range of findings in other research. For some, this may be cause for celebration.

But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet. Read More »

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , | Leave a comment

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 »

Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Methane, Natural Gas| Tagged , , , | 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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