Category Archives: Natural Gas

Methane: a Key to Dealing With Carbon Pollution?

Carbon is typically considered enemy number one in the context of climate-altering pollution. There is good reason why. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from power plants is the leading source of U.S. greenhouse (GHG) emissions. Beyond our borders, the historic level of 400 parts per million of GHGs entering into our earth’s atmosphere was passed just five months ago – an indication of the rapid rise in human-produced emissions.

And while reducing carbon pollution is the primary goal of EDF’s climate agenda, so is minimizing methane emissions from natural gas development. That’s because methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is a powerful GHG that can cause major climate damage in the short term. In fact, a recent analysis by many of the world's top experts on evolving climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reports methane to be at least 84 times more potent than CO2 over the first two decades. On a 100-year timeframe, methane is at least 28 times more potent. These are noticeable changes in methane’s Global Warming Potential (GWP) from the IPCC's last assessment in 2007, with values raised from 72 to 84 and 25 to 28, roughly a 17 percent increase on a 20-year time horizon and a 12 percent increase on a 100-year basis.

IPCC’s fifth assessment (AR5) also quantitatively discusses two additional indirect effects that further increase, albeit modestly, methane's GWP. First, IPCC considers climate-carbon feedbacks and reports two sets of GWP values: one that accounts for the feedbacks and another that excludes them (they conclude that including this effect is "likely" to give a more accurate estimate of climate impacts from emissions of greenhouse gases like methane or CH4). The 20-year GWP for methane with feedbacks increases from 84 to 86, with the 100-year GWP up from 28 to 34. The explanation for this feedback is diminishing ability of oceans and soils to absorb carbon dioxide as the climate warms. As a result, as methane emissions warm the climate, more CO2 that would have historically been absorbed by the land and ocean remains in the atmosphere, causing additional warming. The second effect now quantified by the IPCC is the production of additional CO2 as CH4 is oxidized in the atmosphere, which adds another point or two to methane's GWP.

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“Go Time” for Groundwater Testing In Wyoming

Everyone wins when states institute strong, science-based groundwater testing programs around oil and gas development areas. Landowners get important information about their water quality and protection from potential spills. Oil and gas companies get what is essentially an insurance policy tracking the quality of area drinking water sources both before and after drilling. And regulators get an important new source of data to help them understand local conditions and target clean up, if needed.

EDF has advocated for a program in Wyoming 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. And Wyoming regulators have proposed a program that would, on the whole, create a strong, scientifically valid groundwater testing program.

Late last week, Wyoming’s powerful paper of record, the Casper Star-Tribune, announced it agrees.

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New Study Launches In Series Evaluating Methane Across The Natural Gas System

Source: San Antonio Business Journal

This year is proving to be a big year for methane research.  We’ve seen a handful of new studies published, some funded by EDF and some not, as well as new projects announced.

The attention methane is getting by the scientific community is justified and overdue. Methane emissions are a central issue in the debate over the role that natural gas may play in our national energy future. From a climate perspective, methane is 72 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2) on a per ounce basis when released into the atmosphere over the first 20 years.  And according to new projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), methane is far more potent than we realized (as much as 84 to 87 times more potent than CO2 on a 20-year basis).

The oil and natural gas industry is the single largest source of manmade methane emissions in the United States. Despite this, little is known about how much methane is released from where across the natural gas supply chain. But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest estimates, we know enough to say that methane poses a serious problem to the climate. Read More »

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Americans For Tax Reform: Another Group That Offers Spin Over Science

This commentary originally appeared on Forbes.

Here we go again.  In recent weeks, we have seen both Senator David Vitter and American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard attempt to mischaracterize the results of the groundbreaking University of Texas at Austin (UT) methane emissions study, preferring self-serving sound bites over an honest read of the data.  And now we are seeing another misinformation campaign coming from Americans for Tax Reform.

In his October 2nd Forbes op-ed, Christopher Prandoni, Federal Affairs Manager for Americans for Tax Reform, uses the UT study to disparage new efforts by the State Department to address methane leakage from the natural gas system.  Prandoni wrongfully claims that the UT study “calculated that average emissions were almost 50 times lower than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates,” and that nothing further needs to be done about methane emissions.

Prandoni’s read of the UT study results couldn’t be further from the truth.  Total emissions from the production sector were found to be in line with the current EPA estimates, not 50 times lower.  Yes, the UT study did report some good news.  Methane emissions from the stage of extraction known as well completions were lower than EPA estimates.  Unfortunately for Prandoni’s argument, these lower-than-expected results were because of new green completion technologies (an emissions control method that routes excess gas to sales), soon to be required by the EPA for all new hydraulically-fractured natural gas wells. Read More »

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Bringing Fugitives To Justice In Wyoming

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 »

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Jack Gerard And American Petroleum Institute: Deceiving Congress

This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Source: WCN 24/7 Flickr

Given the widespread press coverage of the release of the University of Texas methane emissions study, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spinning a false story about its results. In an email to leaders in Congress, Gerard tells them that there's nothing to worry about. Methane pollution from gas production is low and getting lower. Wrong.

What the study really said is that technology to reduce methane pollution in the transition from drilling a well to full scale production can be very effective at reducing methane emissions when it is deployed – emphasis on when. This is one of the important points Gerard misses, as no national accounting exists to show U.S. producers currently use these methods as a matter of widespread industry practice.

Gerard also conveniently did not tell Congress that the low wellhead emissions detected by the study are the result of EPA regulations adopted last year – rules API lobbied hard to weaken. Gerard further did not explain to Congress that these regulations don't apply to all unconventional gas production today. Meaning the UT study is not an example to of “problem solved, we can all go home.” Read More »

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The Oil Patch Environmentalist

My passion for protecting the environment dates back to the 1850s – a farm from the 1850s, that is. I gained an early respect for water and land conservation, learning from my grandfather as he tended to our 4th generation family farm just outside of Neosho in Southwestern Missouri. Our farm is spring fed, so you have to be able to manage your water usage very well. I had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of running a farm, from irrigation to plowing the fields. On top of managing the farm, my grandfather was head of Neosho’s water department and we spent a lot of time hiking and fishing in nature. Water, land and the outdoors were at the center of everything he loved, and through his example it became clear to me at a very young age that managing your impact on the environment was of the utmost importance.

I grew up in Tulsa, just a few hours southwest of the family farm. Once known as the oil capital of the world, Tulsa has a long and proud history of oil production. By some estimates, a quarter of all jobs in Oklahoma are tied to the energy sector. As early as high school, I was involved in environmental advocacy, even in the oil patch. That may sound contradictory – environmental advocacy in the oil capital – but I figured out along the way that the industry and environmental stewardship weren’t mutually exclusive. My family taught me a practical and pragmatic approach to protecting the environment, and reiterated that the lessons of conservation learned on my family’s farm could have relevance to the oil and gas industry that surrounded me.

Being from Oklahoma, there weren’t many career options outside of working in the oil and natural gas industry. I spent nearly ten years working in the industry, starting in the environmental department of a small company and working my way up to the executive team. Read More »

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Lessons From A Toxic Waste Dump

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.
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A New Study Measures Methane Leaks In The Natural Gas 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 storagelocal 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.”

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Natural Gas And The Methane Problem: Study Shows Climate Benefit Depends On Fixing The Leaks

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 »

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