By: Sean Wright, Senior Analyst, Corporate Partnerships
Source: Ash Waechter
Environmental concerns about methane emissions continue to grow as more people understand the negative climate implications of this incredibly potent greenhouse gas. Now the financial community is taking note of not only the environmental risks but the impact of methane emissions on the oil and gas industry’s bottom line. Methane leaks not only pollute the atmosphere, but every thousand cubic feet lost represents actual dollars being leaked into thin air—bad business any way you look at it.
Last week the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)—a collaborative effort aimed at improving corporate performance on environmental, social and government issues—released their provisional accounting standards for the non-renewable resources sector, which includes oil and gas production.
These accounting standards guide companies on how to measure and disclose environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks that impact a company’s financial performance. Their work highlights the growing demand amongst investors and stakeholders for companies to report information beyond mere financial metrics in order to provide a more holistic view of a company’s position.
This post was co-authored by Peter Zalzal, EDF Attorney, and Brian Korpics, EDF Legal Fellow
On May 13, EDF—along with a coalition of 64 local, state, and national public interest groups—submitted a petition asking the Environmental Protection Agency to address toxic air pollution emitted from oil and natural gas operations in population centers around the country.
Earthjustice crafted the petition which focuses on a provision of the Clean Air Act. It authorizes EPA to establish standards for toxic pollution from oil and natural gas wells if those wells are in major metropolitan areas (areas with a population greater than 1 million), and if the agency finds the emissions “present more than a negligible risk of adverse effects to public health.”
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.
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.
Posted in Air Quality, Climate, Colorado, General, Methane, Natural Gas Also tagged Climate, climate change, Colorado, environment, fracking, Natural Gas
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.
Colorado is the quintessential swing state – with voters split about evenly between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. That can make for some fractious politics at times, but our diversity is part of what makes us great.
What makes us even better is our unity – and that’s what we saw today when, by a margin of almost 10-to-1, Coloradans of all stripes called on the state’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to adopt new rules that would slash air and climate pollution coming from oil and gas development activities.
The AQCC opened its hearings on the proposed rules with a full day of citizen input, with people traveling from around the state (one drove six hours) to make their voices heard. Residents from rural communities, including many from the Western Slope, stood up, one after another, to tell the AQCC Commissioners that the proposed rules should apply statewide and that the handful of local officials opposing the rules are out of step with the citizens they’re supposed to serve. In response to those local officials, one citizen from Ridgway implored the Commission to protect all Colorado families and not “turn the West Slope into an air quality sacrifice zone.”
EDF couldn’t agree more. Air quality in western parts of Colorado is trending in a bad direction, teetering on the edge of violating federal health standards. The state health department issued nine ozone advisories last winter for Western Slope counties where oil and gas development is prevalent, meaning the air wasn’t healthy for kids, the elderly, active adults and people with respiratory illness.
You may have seen news reports about a new methane emissions study conducted by climate researchers from Harvard and seven other institutions and just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The new paper provides an improved estimate of the total methane budget of the US – in other words, how much methane is being released into the atmosphere each year from all sources, including livestock and oil-and-gas production.
Based on analysis of nearly 5,000 air samples collected in 2007 and 2008 from ten communications towers located around the country, as well as 7,700 samples taken in those years from an aircraft monitoring program, the study finds that total methane emissions due to human activity were roughly 1.5 times greater at that time than previously estimated. Emissions from livestock were roughly twice as high as previous estimates. Emissions from oil-and-gas operations in Oklahoma and Texas were 2.7 times higher than estimated.
We are glad to see the methane issue getting the attention it deserves. While EDF's work to deepen our understanding of current emissions continues, there’s no question about the need for regulation to measure and reduce these emissions. In August, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado (UC) at Boulder published a long-awaited paper on methane leakage in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that reported 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. Read More
This commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices: People on the Planet blog.
At a time when partisan rancor is the order of the day, this week’s news out of Colorado is a tribute to the power of partnership. On Monday, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado proposed new regulations for oil and gas operations that, if adopted, will cut both conventional air pollution and climate pollution – by making Colorado the first state in the nation to tackle the problem of methane emissions. The big announcement showed that industry leaders, state officials and an environmental group like Environmental Defense Fund can sit down together to negotiate a plan to deliver cleaner, safer air. And just in time. As EDF’s Rocky Mountain Regional Director Dan Grossman told NPR this week, “the fundamental question [is] whether or not citizens will tolerate oil and gas development.”
On Election Day, four Colorado communities voted to ban hydraulic fracturing. State officials and industry leaders are getting the message: public trust has been badly damaged, and the only way to restore it is by putting in place strong rules to protect air, water, and communities. Not every community is going to ban oil and gas development, obviously, so we need to protect the many places where it is happening.
While the new Colorado proposal doesn’t address all the issues surrounding oil and gas development, the governor and the state’s regulators should be applauded for their efforts in bringing forward these commonsense air pollution measures, which were agreed to and supported by EDF, Anadarko Petroleum, Encana, and Noble Energy. And we’re not the only ones who think so. Newspapers from Los Angeles to Denver to New York wrote in support of the new rules. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera praised both the proposed legislation and Environmental Defense Fund’s collaborative approach in an op-ed published Monday. Read More
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.
This commentary was originally posted on our EDF Voices blog.
Worthy public policy initiatives get announced every day of the week, and reporters mostly greet them with a shrug. But last week’s announcement of a new center designed to set standards for shale gas development in the Appalachian Basin triggered a wave of media attention.
The Washington Post called the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), “a heartening breakthrough in the war over fracking.” And the Associated Press wrote: “Some of the nation's biggest oil and gas companies have made peace with environmentalists, agreeing to a voluntary set of tough new standards for fracking in the Northeast….”
I agree that this is a big deal, and not just because EDF played an important role in the two years of negotiation that led to the formation of this group. It’s a rare to see environmentalists and some of the nation's biggest energy companies working together to improve the safety of natural gas operations. This coalition is a step in the right direction to better protect the quality of life for people living among the gas fields.
But, I also need to make a few points clear.
First, the standards put forth by CSSD are no substitute for strong regulation and enforcement. Voluntary efforts by industry leaders help distinguish the best from the rest and raise the bar for all, but the only path to full protection of our air, water, and health is regulation and enforcement that apply to all. Read More