It’s been two months since EPA released its much anticipated draft report on hydraulic fracturing, and organizations like ours are busy preparing their official comments, which are due at the end of August.
But based on what we have learned so far and what has been written in the media, it’s important to spend some time on what the report said – and didn’t say – and what it all means.
“Is Fracking Safe?”
Scouring the EPA report for statements proving or disproving that hydraulic fracturing is safe will surely reveal both. It is true that water supplies have been contaminated by activities related to hydraulic fracturing. It is also true that the number of documented contamination events make up a small percentage of all wells. But “Is it safe?” is a red herring. Read More
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
A 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
The 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
By: Peter Sopher, policy analyst, clean energy, and Sarah Ryan, clean energy consultant
Over the past century, the electric grid in the United States has experienced only minor changes. There is evidence, however, the power sector is changing. We are moving away from traditional coal generation and toward alternative, cleaner energy sources. And despite our state being primarily known for oil and gas, Texas is no exception.
In fact, Texas’ electricity sector has been trending cleaner over the past decades, driven by deregulation of the electricity market, the development of the massive highway of transmission lines built to carry West Texas wind to cities throughout the state – the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ), and technological progress. Basically, once the market was opened up to competition, the more economic options – which also happen to be cleaner – began to gain a foothold. And there’s no stopping this train.
Where we are and where we’re going
To start, the declining use of fossil fuels to power our lives is perhaps the most significant change in Texas. As shown in Figure 1 below, fossil fuels’ (coal and gas’) proportion of the state’s electricity generation mix shrunk from 88 percent in 2002 to 82 percent in 2013. Read More
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
Also posted in General, Methane