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
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
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
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
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.
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.)