Two studies released this week make it clear that Canada’s push toward methane regulations for the oil and gas industry is a smart move. And, while data of Canada’s oil and gas methane problem is still limited, these studies reinforce what research of the U.S. oil and gas industry found: oil and gas facilities are leaking far more than the industry reports — and more than it would like us to believe.
The first study, focused on Alberta and released by the Canadian environmental action organization Environmental Defence, concluded that industry is underreporting the amount of equipment located at their facilities, which means they emit more than official emission inventories report. Additionally, the study found that Alberta’s oil and gas facilities average about one large emission source per well.
The second, conducted by the David Suzuki Foundation and focused in British Columbia, measured methane emissions at existing oil and gas facilities and found that emissions are large and widespread. In fact, in just one development area of British Columbia, facilities could leak 111,800 tons of methane each year – the climate pollution equivalent of burning more than 4.5 million tons of coal or more than two million cars over the next two decades. Further, methane emissions from this area were shown to be at least 2.5 times higher than reported by the B.C. government but may be much higher.
This new research is troubling for several reasons. Read More
A new report from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s (OWRB) Produced Water Working Group indicates that oil and gas companies looking for ways to dispose of large volumes of wastewater should focus on recycling those liquids within the oil and gas fields, and not – as some suggest – use it for irrigation or other surface applications where human and environmental exposure is a risk.
The Produced Water Working Group, a panel of 17 state experts convened by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in December, 2015, to study various options for wastewater reuse, determined that treating wastewater for use outside of the oil field is not economical, nor are the environmental and health risks well understood.
In fact, the Working Group didn’t evaluate health and environmental risks for any of the 10 alternative uses evaluated. While research into reducing the cost of desalination, by powering treatment facilities with solar or excess lease gas, for example, may be promising, it won’t be sufficient to green light uses that introduce oil and gas wastewater into contact with communities and ecosystems.
To that end, the OWRB recommends that scientific efforts should be devoted to “identifying toxicological risks and protective water quality targets to ensure that the environment and public health are adequately protected under various reuse scenarios.” This is exactly right. Read More
Markets for electricity and natural gas in the U.S. grew up independently of one another. The rules in one do not always align with the rules in the other, creating challenges for both operators and regulators. Cumbersome inefficiencies are becoming more evident with the rapid evolution of the electric system. With more gas-fired power plants coming online, and the growing requirement to balance intermittent renewable sources on the electric grid, there is now a pressing need to synchronize these two markets. Fixing the disconnects means the two systems need a better framework for doing business with one another. The place where the markets meet is gas generators’ use of the nation’s pipeline system.
Flexibility is Key
Pipelines primarily make money by selling firm (i.e., premium) transportation service. This type of service places value on one thing: moving gas from point A to point B. This market design means that pipelines have no commercial incentive to provide services that are actually needed by gas generators (they get paid regardless of how the capacity is used). The fuel supply needs of gas generators vary over the course of the day and therefore require pipelines to deliver gas on a more variable basis—a “smart” service far more valuable to power generators because they are paying for what they use, rather than for pipeline capacity. Furthermore, signing up for firm service is often too expensive for gas generators who don’t need the service on every day of the year and are not guaranteed recovery of these costs in the electric markets. Read More
In its 2017 GHGI Inventory, published last week, EPA estimates 2015 methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry were 8.1 million metric tons,which is enough to fulfill the domestic heating needs for over 5 million homes.
In addition to estimating 2015 emissions, EPA has revised their estimates of previous years’ emissions based on new scientific data. The lower estimates compared to the 2016 Inventory is almost entirely due to new accounting methods – the actual decrease in emissions from 2014 to 2015 was only 2%, and this was due to fewer well completions resulting from lower oil and gas prices.
EPA still has room for improvement
Although the estimate of oil and gas emissions went down in this year’s report, it should not be viewed as a final answer since EPA plans to make further improvements including better accounting of super-emitters, which science has shown to be a major source of emissions. These changes likely would counteract the decreases in other emission sources. Read More
By Jon Goldstein and Ben Ratner
Much ink has been spilled recently about big new oil and gas investments in the Permian Basin across West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. What some are dubbing “Permania” includes a more than $6 billion investment by ExxonMobil in New Mexico acreage and an almost $3 billion one by Noble Energy across the border in Texas, among others. But a large question remains: will these types of big bets also come with the needed investments to limit methane emissions?
It’s not just an academic question. The answer will go a long way toward revealing if industry actors plan to operate in a way that serves the best interest of local communities and taxpayers. Unfortunately, New Mexico is currently the worst in the nation for waste of natural gas resources from federal lands (such as those that are found in large parts of the state’s Permian Basin). Largely avoidable venting, flaring and leaks of natural gas from these sites also puts a big hole in taxpayers’ wallets, robbing New Mexico taxpayers of $100 million worth of their natural gas resources every year and depriving the state budget of millions more in royalty revenue that could be invested in urgent state needs like education. Read More
Also posted in General, Methane
By Andrew Williams and Isabel Mogstad
For decades, the polluter lobby has argued that environmental regulations are too costly and kill jobs. A new report out today is calling their bluff.
The report, from international consulting firm Datu Research, looks at a sector of the economy that focuses on finding and fixing oil and gas leaks – which contribute to climate change, waste energy, and damage local air quality. A growing number of states have been requiring companies to reduce emissions by regularly checking their equipment for leaks. In those regions, companies that provide pollution control services have grown up to 30%.
This could mean big things for Pennsylvania – which has committed to implementing its own oil and gas pollution protections targeted at cutting methane from new and existing natural gas infrastructure. Read More