Selected category: Methane

Sizing Up EPA’s New Voluntary Methane Reduction Program

Flare tanks credit Earthworks

The U.S. oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere in 2013, a three percent increase over 2012 – that’s an amount of gas worth nearly $2 billion, and enough to supply about 6 million American homes. The sector is the largest source of industrial methane pollution in the country. And not even the industry disputes that methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

So what are we going to do about it?

Earlier this year, the Administration took the first and most important step so far, setting a national goal to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent over the next ten years (to achieve this, rules will need to cover both new and existing emitters, but that’s another story). The first round of proposed regulations is due later this summer.

In the meantime, yesterday EPA released the draft framework for its updated voluntary Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program. Well-designed voluntary initiatives like this one have always been a potential complement to concrete rules, helping to define and showcase best practices. We commend the agency on this new effort.

But did EPA hit the mark – will this program achieve real, measurable, verifiable benefits for the environment? Does it fairly recognize and reward those companies that step up to innovate and lead? Let’s take a closer look at the proposal against a list of critical elements necessary for an effective voluntary program. Read More »

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New Study Emphasizes Need to Find and Fix Methane Leaks; Reveals Limits of Voluntary Action

T_S image 2A study published today in Environmental Science & Technology confirms official figures from the Environmental Protection Agency showing that an enormous amount of methane – about 80 billion cubic feet per year – is escaping from thousands of key nodes along the nation’s natural gas interstate pipeline system. This equals the 20-year climate impact of 33 coal-fired power plants and more than $240 million worth of wasted natural gas per year, enough to meet the yearly heating and cooking needs of over a million U.S. households.

The study also shows the limitations of voluntary measures to address the industry’s methane problem. Companies that volunteered for this study, for example, reported emissions 30 percent lower than companies that were not involved. For some equipment, the difference was more than seven-fold. The performance gap between volunteer and non-volunteer companies reinforces doubt about industry claims that it can manage methane emissions on its own, underscoring the need for standards that create a level playing field across the sector.

Major Challenge, Big Opportunity

The study also confirms that major emission sources are widely distributed, intermittent, and unpredictable. In this case, a relatively small number of large leaks from ill-performing equipment and facilities accounted for 40 percent of the methane leaking from the country’s pipeline transmission and storage infrastructure. Read More »

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Four Things to Look for in EPA’s New Voluntary Methane Reduction Proposal

Barn snip 3The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is soon expected to propose its new “enhanced” Natural Gas STAR program, providing guidelines for oil and gas companies that want to voluntarily work to reduce their methane emissions. Calls for voluntary measures by industry to address this pollution have increased in recent months, as the EPA is set to release its  first-ever methane rules this summer.

While voluntary efforts can be helpful in establishing new technologies or practices, and validating industry’s ability to meet regulatory benchmarks, opt-in programs alone are no substitute for effective regulation that will reduce energy waste and better protect public health. As we’ve said before, current voluntary programs have an extremely low rate of company participation.

In fact, EPA’s current Natural Gas STAR membership includes less than one half of one percent of all oil and gas producers and operators. Therefore, any update to the program should be seen as an adjunct to long-overdue rules that set sensible emission limits for the industry. That’s the only way to set a level playing field for the approximately 10,000 operators that are part of this rapidly expanding oil and gas industry. Read More »

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Oil & Gas Industry Mangles More Facts, Turns EDF Study Results Upside Down

Barnett graphic high res

Click to enlarge.

Here we go again.

A new set of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to 50 percent higher than estimated regional methane emissions from oil and gas operations in Texas were published this week. And like clockwork, the oil and gas industry’s public relations machine, Energy In Depth, proclaimed that rising emissions are actually falling, and that the industry’s meager voluntary efforts are responsible.

This is, of course, wrong on both counts. In fact, it’s a willful misrepresentation of the findings.

First, the assertion that emissions are going down is flat wrong. EPA’s latest inventory released in April reports that in 2013 the oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere from their operations—a three percent increase over 2012—making it the largest industrial source of methane pollution. So much for those voluntary efforts. Read More »

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New Research Finds Higher Methane Emissions, Reduction Opportunities in Texas’ Barnett Shale Region

Methane emissions from vast oil and gas operations in the densely populated Barnett Shale region of Texas are 50 percent higher than estimates based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas inventory, according to a series of 11 new papers published today in Environmental Science & Technology.

The majority of these emissions are from a small but widespread number of sources across the region’s oil and gas supply chain. These emissions come from the sort of leaks and equipment malfunctions that are relatively easy to prevent with proper and frequent monitoring and repair practices.

The sprawling Barnett region, fanning out westward from the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, contains about 30,000 oil and gas wells, 275 compressor stations, and 40 processing plants. It is one of the country’s largest production areas, responsible for 7 percent of total U.S. natural gas output.

Unpredictable, Widespread Sources Dominate Read More »

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IEA: Reducing Oil & Gas Methane Key to Curbing Climate Change

IEA_iLogoLast Friday, the incoming head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Faith Birol, provided a briefing to U.S. stakeholders about IEA’s new special report on climate change, which found that global emissions could peak by the end of this decade without reducing economic growth. The report outlines five key pillars for turning the emissions corner by 2020, and importantly, one of the pillars is reducing methane from the oil and gas sector. The report‘s finding that the scale of potential reductions from oil and gas methane is about the same as the reductions from renewable energy underscores the impact that action on methane can have.

IEA’s report is the latest in a stream of recent analyses illustrating the enormous potential for methane reductions to slow climate change. This is because methane has such a powerful short-term impact on the climate, with 84 times more warming power than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeline. And, the report also highlights the significant opportunity that exists in implementing cost-effective, commonsense measures to cut these emissions, which many governments and companies have not yet taken advantage of. Read More »

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