This post was co-authored by Tomás Carbonell, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow
Last Thursday, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hosted a public forum in Washington, D.C. on venting and flaring of natural gas from oil and gas operations occurring on federal lands. This was the third in a series in which BLM received public comments on various options aimed at addressing the extensive and unnecessary loss of gas from onshore federal oil and gas leases. EDF is encouraged to see BLM taking on this vital issue, and we delivered testimony urging BLM to take strong and timely action to uphold its responsibility to minimize waste of our nation’s natural resources and ensure oil and gas development minimizes impacts to our climate and public health.
Reducing waste of natural gas on federal lands is a core element of the President’s strategy to reduce methane emissions, and for good reason. BLM is tasked with managing 700 million acres of federal lands – making it the largest single land management agency in the federal government – and it has broad responsibilities for the significant oil and gas resources located on those lands. Almost 40 million acres of BLM lands have already been leased for oil and gas production, accounting for approximately 14 percent of all onshore natural gas production and 8.5 percent of all onshore oil production in the United States.
Despite the scale of oil and gas production on federal lands, BLM’s policies covering venting, flaring, and other losses of natural gas are over three decades old. These obsolete regulations allow producers to waste significant amounts of natural gas that could be cost-effectively captured using today’s technology. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in 2010 that between 4.2 and 5 percent of all natural gas produced onshore on federal lands was vented, flared, or lost in fugitive emissions — enough gas to heat about 1.7 million homes each year. A more recent study by the Western Values Project found that vented and flared methane could cost taxpayers nearly $800 million in coming years.
It has happened again. Another scientific study finds methane emissions from oil and gas production are higher than previously thought, reinforcing the urgent need to reduce emissions of this powerful climate pollutant. The latest study, accepted today to be published in American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, measured methane concentrations in the air over Colorado’s largest oil and gas producing region on two days during early 2012 and adds to our understanding of the environmental impact of oil and gas development.
The study—led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at UC-Boulder—suggests between 2.6 and 5.6 percent of gas produced in the Denver Julesburg basin escapes into the air. That’s nearly three times the amount estimated using data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The study also found emissions of smog-forming VOC emissions to be twice as high as estimated based on state data and emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen, to be seven times higher than current state estimates.
Nearly every month, for the past six months, a new scientific study has been released that provides new insights in to where methane, a highly potent, climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas, could be reduced across the entire natural gas system – the next six months will be no different. But this week, a new joint Purdue-Cornell study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed high emissions from drilling.
You see something once, and it might just be an anomaly. See it twice, maybe coincidence. But when you see it a third time – that’s a pattern. A trend.
With Ohio’s move last week to control “fugitive” emissions from oil and gas operations, that’s what we’re seeing – a rapid trend from leading states to control this major source of air and climate pollution. The Ohio rules come on heels of similar actions in Wyoming and Colorado. Together, these rules signal a fast-growing recognition that fugitive emissions are a problem that has to be dealt with, and that there are cost-effective ways we can slash these emissions today.
Source: Dallas Observer
A new study accepted for publication in Environmental Science & Technology takes a close look at the amount of certain air pollutants in the Barnett Shale, a booming oil and gas region in North Texas. Using public monitoring data from 2010-2011, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin compared air pollution levels measured at a monitor surrounded by oil and gas operations to the levels that would be expected based on available emission estimates. The result brings to light that the emissions inventory from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the Barnett Shale does not add up to the observations.
There are numerous air pollutants that can be emitted by oil and natural gas development. Depending on the local composition of the produced gas, emissions can often include volatile organic compounds (VOC, such as propane, butane, pentane, etc.) that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (also known as smog), and toxic air pollutants like benzene and hexane that are directly hazardous to human health. Methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse gas catching lots of attention these days, is another powerful pollutant associated with these operations. Unlike the pollutants listed above, methane directly affects the health of our climate rather than human health. Fortunately, available technologies designed to capture methane are also effective in reducing these other pollutants. However, methane controls alone may not ensure that local air quality concerns are addressed – these require special attention. Read More
The Environmental Protection Agency recently released its draft inventory of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Reporting 2012 data, the inventory estimates methane emissions coming from natural gas and petroleum systems at around 7.6 million metric tons – that’s enough natural gas to provide energy to over 7 million homes annually. This new estimate when compared with last year’s report, which estimates emissions for the 2011 calendar year, shows overall methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems are 1.2 percent lower. Although this seems like good news, the new data is no cause for complacency, as it’s important to understand the cause of the changes which requires closer examination.
The draft inventory introduces some new methodological changes that reduce estimated emissions from previous years. The primary change was driven by the way EPA estimates emissions from gas well completions and workovers, the steps that follow hydraulic fracturing and clear liquids and sand from the well before production begins. Read More
Recent numbers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that methane (CH4) is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) in contributing to climate change over the first 20 years after it is released. Short-lived climate pollutants, like methane, are a large factor in determining how fast our climate will change over the next few decades.
These figures are particularly relevant in California where natural gas (which is about 99.9% methane) is used throughout the economy. For example, natural gas generates much of the state’s electricity through gas-fired power plants, is extensively used for home heating and cooking, and is increasingly being deployed as an alternative fuel for the state’s cars and trucks.
Yet, while California continues to operate and further build out a natural gas backbone in its energy economy, venting and leakage of uncombusted natural gas from pipes and machines can have an environmental impact. In fact, research shows that keeping methane leakage down to a minimum level is the only way to guarantee that the use of natural gas will provide immediate climate benefits, when switching from petroleum products. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.
Everyone knows that if you want your kids to grow up strong and healthy, they need to eat their vegetables. But as any parent knows, it’s easier said than done. That’s why in my house, there is a rule: you can’t have any dessert until you eat your vegetables.
Now, of course, my kids like to argue with me and my wife about exactly how many vegetables they have to eat and whether they can reach into the fridge and select a different vegetable if they don’t like the one she or I cooked that night. That’s okay. We like to encourage creative problem solving. But there’s no getting around the rule. You must eat your vegetables.
As I see it, methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is a lot like kids and vegetables. Reducing it is good for them, but we have to have a rule that requires them to do it. Read More
By: Elizabeth B. Stein, Attorney and Adam Peltz, Attorney
Source: Iwan Baan
In Tuesday’s blog post, we discussed the recently concluded Con Edison rate case, its context, and its significance in advancing clean energy and grid resilience in New York. Today, we take a closer look at the final Order posted last Friday by the New York State Public Service Commission (the Commission) to uncover some of the more encouraging outcomes buried in this 300+ page document:
- Con Edison agreed to various measures that allow for more distributed generation, i.e. on-site power generation, such as combined heat and power, rather than relying solely on power generation and distribution from the traditional, centralized grid. For example, Con Edison agreed to pay for some fault current mitigation, which enables distributed generation to be connected to portions of Con Edison’s grid where it would otherwise be prohibited, and agreed to develop an implementation plan for a microgrid pilot. Additionally, Con Edison agreed to treat customer-sited projects, including distributed generation, as integral parts of its system by considering them in its 24-month planning horizon. Because some distributed generation can operate in an ‘islanded’ mode, or separate from the main grid, and can thus continue operating in a power outage, distributed generation can play a critical role in improving resilience. Read More
Day 4 of the ongoing hearings on a groundbreaking proposal to reduce air and climate pollution from oil and gas operations in Colorado saw Team EDF pushing back on claims opposition groups have made to try to weaken the proposal.
Leading companies Noble, Anadarko, Encana and DCP also put on strong cases, using their own operational data to show the proposal is cost effective. They should be lauded for their leadership, as should local governments and conservation groups that brought strong analytics to the hearings.
If the proposal is adopted without being weakened, it will eliminate more than 90,000 tons of smog-forming VOCs annually (the same amount produced by all the cars and trucks in Colorado) and more than 100,000 tons of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.
Also posted in Air Quality, Climate, Colorado, General, Methane Tagged Climate, climate change, Colorado, environment, fracking, Methane, Natural Gas