You may have seen news reports about a new methane emissions study conducted by climate researchers from Harvard and seven other institutions and just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The new paper provides an improved estimate of the total methane budget of the US – in other words, how much methane is being released into the atmosphere each year from all sources, including livestock and oil-and-gas production.
Based on analysis of nearly 5,000 air samples collected in 2007 and 2008 from ten communications towers located around the country, as well as 7,700 samples taken in those years from an aircraft monitoring program, the study finds that total methane emissions due to human activity were roughly 1.5 times greater at that time than previously estimated. Emissions from livestock were roughly twice as high as previous estimates. Emissions from oil-and-gas operations in Oklahoma and Texas were 2.7 times higher than estimated.
We are glad to see the methane issue getting the attention it deserves. While EDF's work to deepen our understanding of current emissions continues, there’s no question about the need for regulation to measure and reduce these emissions. In August, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado (UC) at Boulder published a long-awaited paper on methane leakage in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that reported an alarmingly high level of methane emissions in the Uintah Basin of Utah — 6.2 to 11.7 percent of total production for an area about 1,000 square miles. Read More
Source: Scott Dalton for The New York Times
When it comes to healthy air, what you can’t see can hurt you.
Leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and methane, the primary components in natural gas, may be invisible – but that doesn’t mean they are harmless. These leaks – called “fugitive” emissions – can create serious air quality problems when VOC's are involved. Meanwhile, methane leaks mean less product available for sale and a wasted resource.
But, while you can’t always see leaks with the naked eye, you can use modern technology to help you detect and fix them. Cameras that use infrared technology to “see” leaking hydrocarbons and inexpensive hand held sensors that measure leaks are commonly used to help operators find and fix leaking equipment. Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs that require operators to check for leaks frequently using these modern technologies, and expeditiously repair them, can produce huge air quality benefits. Such programs are currently required in permits for a number of operators in Wyoming’s Jonah Pinedale Anticline Development Area. Read More
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas – 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. The largest single source of U.S. methane emissions is the vast network of infrastructure and activity involved in the production, processing and delivery of natural gas. These emissions, if not controlled, pose a significant risk to the climate. In the near term, the opportunity to maximize the climate benefit of natural gas compared to other fossil fuels rests on whether methane emissions can be minimized.
A groundbreaking study released today demonstrates that some operators have been successful in deploying technologies and strategies to minimize methane emissions from production, creating optimism that we can make the natural gas climate bet payoff. However, we also know that such technologies and strategies are not universally deployed in the industry and, not surprisingly, other studies demonstrate much higher methane leakage rates.
We simply need to be vigilant to ensure that such production is done right.
The University of Texas study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved taking direct measurements of actual methane emissions – as opposed to estimating emissions through indirect methods such as engineering formulas, as has often been the case in earlier studies. Measurements were taken at well sites in multiple geographic regions – including the Rocky Mountain West. It is the first of 16 studies EDF is participating in to assess the scope of methane leakage throughout the natural gas supply chain (from production on through to local distribution and key end users). Read More
Also posted in Natural Gas
Source: Sage Metering
August is typically a quiet time of year, and particularly so for work that concerns the nation’s capital. But amidst the dog days of summer, federal regulators made a fairly significant move this month to preserve stricter emissions controls for thousands of large storage vessels used to temporarily house crude oil, condensate and other liquids.
Last Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule that keeps in place an important aspect of its oil and gas pollution standards (or New Source Performance Standards, NSPS) issued last year, including provisions for storage tanks that emit six or more tons of ozone-forming air pollutants annually. These standards were intended to help reduce ground-level ozone and methane emissions in areas where oil and gas production occur. EPA proposed revisions to these standards in April of 2013 in response to industry petitions for less stringent requirements that would have considerably diminished important gains made by the NSPS to protect public health and the environment. EDF and five other environmental organizations joined together to strongly encourage EPA’s reconsideration, opposing these revisions in detailed technical comments filed with the agency.
EPA’s final rule is good news in the fight for cleaner, healthier air. Whereas the April 2013 proposal would have created a broad exemption from emission controls for thousands of recently-built tanks, the final rule ensures that operators of all new storage tanks that pass the six ton threshold will be required to reduce emissions by 95 percent. Controlling emissions from oil and gas storage tanks is important. Roughly 20,000 newly constructed tanks have been added in the field since August 2011 and these receptacles, if not properly managed, could be a large source of ozone forming pollution, as well as climate altering methane emissions. Had EPA proceeded to establish a broad exemption for these tanks, millions of tons of additional ozone-forming pollution and hundreds of thousands of tons of methane would have been released into the atmosphere. Read More
Concerns about the methane problem associated with the U.S. natural gas boom are mounting with each study released. This week scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado (UC) at Boulder published a new paper on methane leakage in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. It reports an alarmingly high level of methane emissions in the Uintah Basin of Utah — 6.2 to 11.7 percent of total production for an area about 1,000 square miles. Findings are based on readings from airplane flights that measured methane in the air on a single day and estimated the proportion of those emissions that came from the oil and gas infrastructure —production, gathering systems, processing and transmission of the gas out of the region. The authors calculated the uncertainty of their measurements, finding a 68 percent chance the leak rate is between 6.2 and 11.7 percent, and a 95 percent chance it is between 3.5 and 14 percent.
This follows two other regional studies conducted by scientists at the same organizations. One released last May in the Journal of Geophysical Research reported a 17 percent methane leak rate for the Los Angeles Basin, which has received quite a bit of attention although, as I’ll explain below, the figure can be misleading. The second study, conducted over the Denver-Julesburg Basin in 2008, found 4 percent of the methane produced at an oil and gas field near Denver at that time was escaping into the atmosphere. Taken together, these studies are troubling. They should be regarded as alarm bells ringing in our ears. Action by policymakers and industry is needed now.
Any amount of methane lost from the natural gas supply chain should be eliminated whenever possible. That’s because methane retains heat much more effectively relative to carbon dioxide: Over the first 20 years, an ounce of methane traps in heat 72 times more efficiently. Even small amounts vented or released as “fugitives” – unintentional methane leaked as gas moves from the field to your doorstep – can reduce or eliminate the climate advantage we think we’re getting when we substitute natural gas for coal or oil.
This blog post was written by Tomás Carbonell, Attorney in EDFs Climate and Air Program. Jack Nelson, a legal intern in EDF’s Washington, D.C. office, assisted in the preparation of this post.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put in place last year important standards to protect public health and reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants from oil and gas storage tanks and related equipment. EPA wisely issued those standards after thousands of comments were provided by concerned public advocates for cleaner air. With oil and gas production expanding quickly, tough standards are needed now more than ever to assure air quality protections for people living near oil and gas producing areas.
Recently, EPA proposed changes to standards for storage tanks in the oil and gas sector — a major source of pollutants that contribute to smog, climate change, and other threats to public health and the environment. These changes would undermine the progress made thus far and would lead to significant and unnecessary increases in emissions of volatile organic compounds, methane, and other pollutants. EDF is urging EPA not to finalize the proposed revisions in comments filed together with Clean Air Council, Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.
Proposed Changes to the Storage Tank Standards
Last fall, oil and gas industry groups petitioned EPA for changes to the storage tank standards, arguing that less stringent standards are needed because these tanks are even more numerous and emit at higher levels than EPA predicted when it was developing the current standards. If anything, this new information indicates the need to maintain or strengthen health-protective standards for storage tanks. EPA’s proposed changes would instead: Read More
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
New supplies of natural gas are no doubt changing our energy landscape and, of all fossil fuels, natural gas appears to be a smarter choice because its carbon footprint is smaller when combusted than coal or oil. When talking about natural gas as part of a potential climate solution, though, it is important to recognize its unique position as either being a good or bad thing for global warming – depending upon the amount of uncombusted methane emissions that are released into the atmosphere.
No matter what market forces dictate for the future of gas, it’s EDF’s job to ensure that natural gas doesn’t become a detriment to public health or the environment. And, with respect to air quality and climate, getting better data on methane emissions is essential.
Methane can be emitted at various points across the natural gas system. Comprised mostly of methane, natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas. When it enters the atmosphere unburned, it has a higher warming potential than carbon dioxide, the principal contributor of man-made climate change. The more gas released, the more it undermines the climate benefits of using natural gas as compared to other fossil fuels. Yet there is no clear sense of how much and from where methane is leaking out from the system, as my colleague and Chief Scientist Steven Hamburg has explained here.
Over the last year EDF has been orchestrating a large-scale study of methane emissions with leading researchers in the field and industry to better understand the amount of methane emissions across the natural gas supply chain. To date the 30-month collaborative effort, with a $10 million overall budget, is bringing together almost 20 universities and research facilities and about 40 industry partners, collectively, in order to measure methane directly at potentially large emissions sources as gas moves from the formation underground to the wellhead and then on to the consumer.
Yesterday, the third part of EDF’s methane research study was announced, which focuses on the local distribution of natural gas (from city gate to customer meter) Read More
Anyone younger than 30 may not understand what a skipping record sounds like; in their lives, listening to tunes has more often meant hitting a playlist on iTunes or streaming Pandora, than it has meant dusting off an old record. To us “old” folks who remember when clunky 8-track tapes were the height of portable music cool, today’s options are nothing less than astounding.
Believe it or not, I was thinking about this as I participated yesterday in a panel at the World Resource Institute in Washington, D.C. to discuss their new paper titled, “Cleaning the Air: Reducing Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions From U.S. Natural Gas Systems.” Reviewing the report, and reflecting on EDF’s own work to understand and reduce methane and other air pollution, it’s clear a huge opportunity exists for technology to revolutionize air quality practices in the gas industry, just as it reengineered production and delivery of audio in the music industry. And the prospects are very bright that it will.
Champions of natural gas like to say that natural gas is a preferred fossil fuel alternative to coal and oil because it has less carbon content than either, and therefore, when burned, produces less carbon dioxide, which is the a primary cause of global warming. This is true.
But what is often not said is that natural gas is primarily made up of methane, which itself is a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant, many times more powerful than carbon dioxide, particularly when methane is first released into the atmosphere. Even small leaks at the wellhead or along the infrastructure used to process and transport the gas to our power plants, homes and businesses can undo much of the greenhouse gas benefits we think we are getting when we substitute natural gas for coal or petroleum sources. Read More
Wyoming is already one of the country’s top natural gas producers. And large new developments under review by the
Source: Anne Nowell
U.S. Bureau of Land Management totaling more than 25,000 new wells in the coming years could further solidify Wyoming's status as a national energy leader.
But what will this leadership look like? Will this series of development projects lead to worsening air quality or set an example for safe, responsible development?
The first of these, the Continental Divide – Creston Project, is alone one of the largest onshore natural gas developments ever proposed on federal lands in the United States. This enormous development slated for the Wamsutter area of south-central Wyoming, includes drilling nearly 9,000 new natural gas wells across 1,672 square miles (or 1.1 million acres) of public and private lands — an area a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island. The well-known Jonah Field in western Wyoming, by comparison, covers about 21,000 acres and includes about 3,500 wells.
The scale, concentration and vicinity of new wells proposed by the CD-C project are fueling concern for regional air quality issues. If managed improperly, this project could lead to more unhealthy air for local residents and workers.
Unhealthy air, as a result of oil and gas development, has been a particular issue in Pinedale, a community just northwest of the CD-C proposal in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin. The past few winters have earned the area unwanted national attention for its U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nonattainment designation for ground-level ozone pollution – one of the first non-urban areas to report such high levels of smog. Read More