Texas is home to half the oil and gas exploration and production in the United States. Looking out west is the Permian Basin. To the north is the Barnett. Out east is the Haynesville and due south is the Eagle Ford. Oil and gas is a vibrant industry in Texas. Historically it’s been the lifeblood of the state’s economy. But, as with any industrial development, it comes with its own set of serious risks to the environment. Impacts on our land, air, water and climate that if not managed correctly can have lasting consequences.
As an engineer working on water quality issues and related environmental issues for over 30 years, I’ve seen firsthand the effects of unregulated industrial activity. In 1980, the federal government passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as Superfund. Superfund legislation gave the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to compel the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites in our country, suing those responsible, and even establishing a trust fund to address toxic sites with no known responsible party. In Texas, these sites were the result of decades of industrial development caused by, for example, old lead production plants dating back to the early 1900s, World War II era defense manufacturing and the rise of the petrochemical industry.
This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.
Source: Penn State Outreach/flickr
Earlier this week, a prestigious scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States.” This study is the first in a comprehensive research initiative that Environmental Defense Fund is helping to produce with more than 90 partner universities, scientists, research facilities and natural gas industry companies. This effort, the largest scientific undertaking in EDF’s history, is an unprecedented attempt to measure where and how much methane is being released across the entire natural gas supply chain.
By the time the work is finished, around the end of 2014, scientists working with EDF will have completed sixteen studies characterizing methane emissions in five key areas of the natural gas system: production, gathering and processing,transmission and storage, local distribution and use in operating and fueling heavy and medium weight trucks.
The study that published Monday was led by Dr. David Allen of the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and is based on some of the first-ever direct measurements of methane emissions from shale gas wells that use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
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 Methane leakage
I’ve seen many energy issues expand and contract in the years I’ve been with EDF since 1988. Our organization has celebrated and participated in many victories regarding climate change, including landmark legislation that put limits for the first time on California’s greenhouse gas emissions, the elimination of eight out of 11 new coal plants in Texas as part of the utility TXU’s buyout and federal standards for controlling air pollution from unconventional gas activities. At the same time, we’ve seen clean energy sources both praised and attacked.
No issue, however, has been as thorny as natural gas. We used to think if we just switched from coal or oil to natural gas, we could be certain that the climate change scenario would improve dramatically. But with lingering uncertainty around just how much methane, a very potent greenhouse, is being emitted and is leaking out across the natural gas system, we are still weighing the amount of climate benefit of its use.
When you don’t know something that you want to know, you turn to experts who either have the knowledge or can acquire the knowledge by asking the right questions. So, as head of EDF’s US Climate and Energy Program, I’ve assembled a team whose judgment I trust to find answers to the question that defines our gas work: How can we minimize the risks associated with operations and maximize the inherent climate benefit of natural gas?
The Latin phrase “Scientia potentia est” may not ring a bell, but its translation should: knowledge is power.
The oil and gas industry spends millions every year to expand its knowledge of underground energy reserves. That is because better geologic knowledge is powerful stuff, it can mean the difference between a very profitable well or a very expensive dry hole.
Doesn’t it make sense then for the industry to also invest in better knowledge of local water resources? Investing a small amount in understanding local groundwater quality before you drill, and following up to monitor whether that water is potentially impacted once energy production commences is also incredibly powerful for local residents, state regulators and the industry alike.
Wyoming oil and gas regulators have proposed a testing program that aims to do exactly this – establish a groundwater quality baseline in areas where oil and gas development is planned, and then follow up with two sets of tests to monitor for potential impacts from this specific activity. Read More
Also posted in Water
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.
If you’re like so many conscientious consumers, you’ve experienced the disappointment that comes when you realize the lean turkey breast you bought has 300% of your daily value of sodium, negating the benefits of its high-protein and low-fat content. Instantly, food choices feel more complex; you’ve learned the hard way that the pursuit of a low-fat diet is not the same as a healthy diet.
The Energy-Water Nexus shows us that our energy choices are much like our food choices: The environmental benefits of an energy diet low in carbon emissions might be diminished by increased water consumption (or waste), and the unforeseen tradeoffs between the two resources (i.e. more sodium in lieu of less fat, can hurt us in the long run).
As we have mentioned before, roughly 90% of the energy we use today comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which require 190 billion gallons of water per day, or 39% of all U.S. freshwater withdrawals (water “withdrawal” indicates the water withdrawn from ground level water sources; not to be confused with “consumption,” which indicates the amount of water lost to evaporation.)
Also posted in clean energy, Energy Efficiency, Solar, Texas, Water
Tagged energy, Energy Policy, Energy-Water Nexus, environment, Resource Efficiency, Solar, texas, Water, Water Policy
Source: Bulk Transporter
This blog post was written by Jason Mathers, Senior Manager of EDF’s Corporate Partnerships Program.
The International Energy Agency weighed in last week as bullish on the future of natural gas as a transportation fuel.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the IEA “expects natural gas use in road and maritime transportation to rise to 98 billion cubic meters by 2018, covering around 10 percent of incremental energy needs in the transport sector.”
Three factors are behind this increase in the use of natural gas for transportation, according to Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA's executive director. These are the fuel’s “abundant supplies as well as concerns about oil dependency and air pollution." The cost factor is particularly a driver for commercial fleet operators where current fuel prices have become more favorable for natural gas over diesel.
In the U.S., all new trucks fueled by diesel or natural gas must meet the same standards for emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Natural gas engines for medium- and heavy-duty trucks have surpassed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent standards for particulate matter emissions by as much as 80 percent and for nitrogen oxides by up to 35 percent. Cummins Westport, the leading producer of natural gas engines, is investigating the feasibility of reducing NOx emissions from its spark-ignited natural gas engines to levels significantly below the current federal emissions standard.
Natural gas trucks have the potential to deliver tangible greenhouse gas emissions benefits over their petroleum-based counterparts. This certainty that natural gas vehicles are able to consistently deliver on their potential climate benefits in part depends on minimizing methane leaks caused by vehicle operations, refueling and maintenance. Read More
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