Selected tags: fracking

Critical Decision Expected Tomorrow in Colorado on Clean Air Rule

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.

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Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Colorado, General, Methane, Natural Gas| Also tagged , , , , , | 3 Responses, comments now closed

Arguments Heat Up in Colorado Air Rulemaking, But the Facts Remain

Yesterday, we covered the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) taking public testimony from citizens who traveled from around the state to speak in support of a groundbreaking proposal that would slash emissions of smog-forming pollutants and greenhouse gases coming from oil and gas activities.

Formal proceedings kicked off today – and will likely run through the weekend – with various parties presenting their opening cases. EDF went early in the day, providing strong evidence that the proposed rule is cost-effective and urgently needed to combat local air quality problems and climate change. We also highlighted some glaring flaws  in the methodology industry opponents cooked up to show inflated costs for the rules.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the Colorado Petroleum Association (CPA) and the DGS group are throwing everything they can at the rule to try to gut it.  But they’re in a shrinking minority on the wrong side of history.

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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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Posted in Natural Gas, Texas| Also tagged , , | Comments closed

“Promised Land”: A Love Letter To Longmont

Source: The Daily Digger

Promised Land is not a movie about “fracking.” You will be sorely disappointed if you go to the theatre expecting to see lurid visuals of sinister-looking waste water ponds, plumes of diesel soot and road dust, or bucolic landscapes scarred by roads and pipes. You will see none of that.

Promised Land is a movie about what happens before the drilling rigs and man camps rumble into town. It is the story of a rural community, proud but poor, struggling to reconcile itself with an enormous economic opportunity that comes at an enormous cost.

And, despite what you may have read in the blogosphere, it is not reflexively anti-natural gas. The movie actually does a fairly decent job of presenting all sides of the shale gas development debate. I was intrigued to read a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from this past June where John Krasinski, a star in the film and co-author of the screenplay, revealed that he originally conceived the story as a community facing major wind farm development. Krasinski made the switch because natural gas development is more topical, and more visceral, than wind development.  His primary point in making the film was to explore what happens when money and power come to a rural community that has neither.

I suspect the reason why the natural gas industry is so on edge about this movie is because the plot device which propels the story forward is a community referendum on whether development will be allowed within its borders. This is exactly the situation the industry faces in Longmont, Colorado, and to the same or similar degree in many other communities around the country.

The central question the movie poses is whether any amount of potential future prosperity is worth sacrificing a pastoral way of life that has defined a community for generations. Worry over polluted water is part of what fuels the townspeople’s anxiety over what to do, but it is far from their only concern.

Does a community have the right to regulate or prohibit industrial development in its borders?  It’s a tricky legal question currently playing out in Colorado and elsewhere around the country, and there is no simple answer.

One thing is certain: the natural gas industry must be forthcoming and honest about the risks that unconventional oil and gas development create, proactive in taking the steps necessary to minimize those risks, and willing to collect and publicly disclose the data necessary to enable communities to evaluate for themselves whether their health and environment are being fully protected. Many people distrust whether industry can develop shale gas safely, and it’s understandable why they are concerned – especially given recent media reports about industry hiding many of the chemicals they use behind questionable “trade secret” claims.  It appears that even the most basic steps toward greater transparency are grudging and incomplete.

In Promised Land, citizens are repeatedly lied to with predictable results. In real life, the natural gas industry has the ability to write a different story through the actions it takes to address community concerns, measure performance and disclose results. That’s a story I want to see.

Posted in Natural Gas| Also tagged , | 4 Responses, comments now closed

Natural Gas: A Question Of Sustainability

This commentary was originally posted on the EDF Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

Today there are around 45,000 shale gas wells operating in the United States – triple the number in 2005 – and as a result, people are rightfully concerned about the extent of the shale boom’s potential damage to the environment.

The issue became the focal point of discussion this month in “Can Natural Gas Be Sustainable?,” a five-person panel presentation at the second annual SXSW Eco conference in Austin. As part of the panel, we discussed how stronger standards and employing best practices could minimize impacts of increased natural gas production in the wake of growing public concern about the health and environmental impacts of drilling.

Attendees of SXSW Eco represented a broad swath of perspectives, ranging from those who were against any natural gas development to those who wanted to see much more natural gas development. One attendee even criticized the title of the panel, presenting the position that developing any non-renewable resource is inherently not sustainable.

As for the sustainability question, one thing is clear: the natural gas industry has a lot of opportunity for improvement, and there is mounting public pressure to address environmental concerns. Nearly 61 percent of Americans have negative views about the oil and gas industry – higher than any other industry (David Blackmon, from FTI Consulting, actually joked that this was an improvement!)

As part of the discussion, I spoke about the many environmental and health impacts associated with natural gas development. Construction and drilling equipment can degrade local air quality with smog-forming pollutants and air toxics (Example: activities at the Barnett Shale in Texas). I also spoke about the implications of faulty well construction as one of the major causes of natural gas leakage, and emphasized that while natural gas is touted as a low-carbon fuel source, leaks from the production, distribution, and use of natural gas could undermine the greenhouse gas advantage combusted natural gas has over coal.

EDF is working hard to address the key problem areas associated with natural gas development: exposure to toxic chemicals and waste products; faulty well construction and design; climate impacts from methane leakage; local and regional air pollution; and land use and community impacts. Our team is engaging with community, government and industry stakeholders to help identify ways to minimize both human health and environmental risk, including:

  • Comprehensive disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals
  • Modernization of rules for well construction and operation
  • Systems-based management of wastes and water
  • State and national standards for improving air quality and reducing climate impacts
  • Minimization of land use and community impacts from natural gas development

Fellow SXSW Panelists

Other speakers presented varying perspectives on natural gas issues. Chris Helman, Associate Editor of Forbes magazine, moderated the panel and emphasized the public interest on the topic, as well as the contribution of natural gas to the country’s energy portfolio.

George Peridas, a scientist from NRDC, prefaced his comments by saying, “We have a lot of work to do before we can call natural gas clean.” Peridas gave examples of numerous exemptions given the natural gas industry under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. As well, those tasked with enforcing the state natural gas regulations that currently exist lack the ability to go out, fully inspect and enforce those standards. The result, he said, was that “industry is a self-policing entity right now.”

Much of his policy work focuses on climate change and correspondingly, Peridas said that natural gas could help with climate change and air quality when compared to coal. “The key is that gas needs to displace dirtier fuels,” he said. “A bridge is not the right frame of mind, and we cannot afford to treat gas as an abundant resource. We need to address its impacts now.”

Some of the solutions Peridas proposed included: designation of “off-limits” areas that provide fresh water resources or wildlife/conservation value; stopping those leaks that waste methane and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions; development of a comprehensive guide for how to drill safely (e.g., proper cement jobs at well sites); repealing the outrageous exemptions at the federal level that industry currently enjoys; focusing on measures and policies that promote solutions (e.g., solar energy); and ensuring that communities have a say in whether drilling proceeds in their areas.

Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger, a nun with Congregation Of The Sisters Of Charity Of The Incarnate Word, and community advocate for the Eagle Ford Shale, agreed strongly with co-panelist George Peridas and his push for more local regulations. She told the story of citizens in small, rural Texas towns being strongly impacted by the Eagle Ford shale, and even used the phrase “merciless exploitation” to describe her own such experience.

Sister Elizabeth asked the rhetorical question: “Are we counting our natural gas clean energy chickens before they hatch?” She then emphasized that society must consider all of the activities required to produce natural gas, including activities she has observed in the Eagle Ford Shale: trucks and heavy equipment; travel trailers for workers; transporting of sand and chemicals, fracking equipment, and toxic waste (produced during operations); construction of huge batteries and tanks; rigs operating 24 hours a day; loud compressor stations; damage to land requiring clean up; and more.

David Blackmon, managing director at FTI Consulting, represented industry’s point of view, which touts the “reality that over half of our electricity generating capacity is natural gas.” The demand for natural gas includes backing up intermittent supply from solar and wind power. He said that natural gas was one of the only power sources that could be “cycled up” in a matter of minutes and that coal made this process more expensive.

Blackmon said that the key to making natural gas sustainable was ensuring public trust; trust that it is being appropriately regulated at federal, state and local levels. “I absolutely agree that there are not enough inspectors in the Texas Railroad Commission to regulate it,” he said. “The good news is that most companies in the industry recognize the need for public trust and are working towards that.”

Posted in Methane, Natural Gas| Also tagged , , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

New York's Decision To Take Time For A Public Health Review Of Hydraulic Fracturing Is A Wise Move

Last week’s announcement that New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) has asked New York State Department of Health (NY DOH) to undertake a review of the work NY DEC has done to date on regulating high volume hydraulic fracturing is welcome news.  Citizens across New York have raised legitimate questions about whether NY DEC is doing all that it can do to develop regulations that protect public health.  Review by a qualified panel of public health experts, under the auspices of NY DOH, is a necessary step to answer these legitimate concerns.  Getting the rules right in New York is critically important, so we believe that taking the time for a public health review is a wise move.

Of course, it is critically important that this review be done well.  The experts convened by NY DOH should be qualified, independent public health professionals.  The scope of their review should be broad and the work that they do should be thorough.  Science, not politics, should guide their work.  Above all, NY DEC should stand ready to act on any recommendations that come from this review.  EDF looks at this an opportunity to make NY DEC’s good work to date better, and we hope NY DEC sees it that way too.

EDF believes that New York’s regulatory regime should include the development of a public health baseline across the communities where shale gas development would be likely to occur, coupled with a rigorous, on-going effort by NY DOH to track key public health metrics against this baseline over time.  We believe this step is necessary to assure that regulations are working to protect public health, and provide the data necessary to fix them if they are not. 

No community should have to sacrifice public health or the quality of their environment for the sake of energy production.  Nor should artificial deadlines cut short efforts to get the regulations right.  New York Department of Environmental Conservation deserves praise for taking this necessary step.

Posted in Natural Gas, New York| Also tagged , , | 1 Response, comments now closed