Source: Dan Lurie
At first glance, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sept. 30 press release looked like a winner: Methane emissions from the oil and gas sector dropped by 12 percent in 2013, with a whopping 73-percent decline from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells making up the largest share of reductions.
The drop in methane emissions shows how effective regulation is in reducing air pollution from oil and gas production. It was led by an early phase of EPA’s air pollution rules, enacted in October 2012, with full implementation expected by January 2015. (Although this regulation targets emissions of volatile organic compounds, it has also reduced methane as a co-benefit.)
Except, the 73- percent decline is not the whole story. It only accounts for 2.3 percent of the total methane emissions reported to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, leaving a large amount of tons on the table addressed.
Everyone agrees that burning off as much as a third of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is a terrible waste of an important natural resource. The flaring problem arises out of the fact that energy companies are primarily drilling for oil in North Dakota. A lot of natural gas comes out of those very same wells, though; and since the infrastructure isn’t in place to take that gas to market, companies end up flaring gas as a “waste” byproduct of oil production.
This isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight. Building the gathering systems, processing capacity and transmission pipelines to get this gas to market requires major planning and investment. But we also have to recognize that in a capital-constrained world, the incentive is for companies to put their next dollar toward the next oil well – not toward lower-return (but still lucrative) investments in gas infrastructure. If a company’s bottom line was all that mattered, that might be fine. But we have other issues at play here.
Flaring natural gas undermines national energy security, has negative impacts on the region’s air quality, results in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and represents millions of dollars of lost revenue for the state, local governments, schools and mineral estate owners. In fact, in 2012 alone, flaring resulted in the waste of around $1 billion in fuel – or enough gas to heat more than a million homes.
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.”
America is in the midst of two booms: one in sensor technology and another in natural gas. Recent innovations—specifically advancements in drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies—have dramatically increased the nation’s access to reserves of natural gas. While this influx of new technology has altered the energy industry, the resulting large-scale development has brought with it some real environmental and climate risks. Now is the time for the same ingenuity that transformed America’s energy landscape to help identify solutions to reduce the impacts caused by increasing supplies of natural gas.
Just this last month, two innovator programs were announced – one led by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and another from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) – both are focused on developing new technologies capable of minimizing methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain. The programs are different but complementary and together signal there is momentum building to engage the best and brightest innovators to help address a consequential component of the climate issue. Read More
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.