Energy Producers Capture More Today Than In "Good Old Days" But We'll All Benefit If They Do Better

In the frontier days of drilling in the 1900s, discoveries such as Spindletop in Texas and the Drake in Pennsylvania heralded a new era of energy for America. Back then, the gaseous by-product produced at the wellhead was considered a nuisance and flared (burned) or released into the air. Today, it's considered a valuable energy source and routinely harnessed, which results in economic and environmental benefits. Capturing gas cuts emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone, cause cancer, and contribute to climate change.

Given that it’s 2011, we’re way past the conditions of the 1900s. But, whereas the process of capturing natural gas as an energy source has come a long way, many improvements must still be made to ensure producers capture the maximum amount of natural gas “upstream” at wellheads and throughout the gas processing and transportation network.

Just because the gas can’t be seen doesn’t mean it isn't hazardous. In the last three years, new data shows that natural gas leaks might be twice as high as previously thought. This means that a lot more air pollution is fouling the air we breathe.

The pollution comes from equipment on-site (tanks, valves, compressor engines, flanges), at processing plants (where raw natural gas is purified for residential and commercial use) and throughout the pipeline system.

If you know anyone that lives near drilling sites — such as the Barnett Shale in Texas, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, Piceance and big chunks of Colorado and Wyoming — you’ve likely heard stories about their public health and environmental impacts.

EDF sponsored a study showing that the emissions produced by natural gas operations around Barnett Shale rival those from 4 million cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Around the country, those who live nearby drilling sites have reported higher incidents of health concerns including respiratory and skin irritation, neurological problems, dizziness and headaches. And in some instances, elevated levels of benzene — a known carcinogen — have been detected.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rules that would require use of technologies and practices to capture more of the natural gas now being allowed into the air. These clean air standards are sensible, which makes you wonder why it’s taken a century to put these rules into place at the national level. It also makes you wonder why industry would fight them when they can capture more natural gas and bring it to market. Indeed, in addition to the health and environmental benefits of the rule, there are economic benefits.

A number of natural gas companies already use the practices that the EPA is proposing to cut methane and are touting the resulting economic benefits.

Similar requirements to those the EPA proposed have been in place in Colorado and Wyoming without adverse affects on companies’ profits. Who isn’t for a win-win solution?

I’ll be blogging more about this proposal in the coming days. Please get involved by writing to the EPA in favor of updated clean air protections. We also invite you to join us and share your thoughts with the EPA at the upcoming public hearings in: Pittsburgh, Sept. 27; Denver, Sept. 28; and in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 29. If you can't make the hearings, you can submit comments online until Oct. 24.

There's no better time than now to make your voice heard and show your support for clean air.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Gross
    Posted September 23, 2011 at 8:47 AM | Permalink

    How did the EPD sponsored study measure the emmisions from the nat gas operations? (e.g. how many samples; how were the samples taken; etc)

  2. energydem
    Posted September 23, 2011 at 5:31 PM | Permalink

    I totally agree with EDF. There are technologies that can capture most of the fugitive emissions, the industry can use them, we should do more research to lower their costs so such requirements don't drive small producers out of the business (there are alot of small producers in the industry), and we should move forward in producing this incredible resource we have been given. We need it gas as a substitute for coal in both power generation and industry — it could pretty dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in the near term.

  3. Dorkyman
    Posted September 24, 2011 at 12:58 PM | Permalink

    Jeez, nothing like an unbiased source, eh?

    Why do I get the feeling that these guys would oppose ANY growth of oil or natural-gas resourcing?

    Fortunately, it appears the public tide has turned. People don't believe the scare stories any more and want jobs and energy.

  4. Jim Hodgen
    Posted September 25, 2011 at 1:14 AM | Permalink

    What kind of scientists are you? The "blogger introductions titles" don't convey a lot of information. Can you tell me exactly how Methane causes cancer, as you alluded it does in paragraph 1? Benzene has been shown to carcinogenic, but in fairly significant quantities… what are the chances that those quantities will ever be reached in "large swaths of Wyoming and Colorado"?

    Given the emotional, not rational appeal (you presented triggers, not facts in this mini-article… I am apparently supposed to simply resonate with it, not see your arguments as the right thing to do because I understand the specific elements that cause your concerns).

    Since the EPA has become a political mechanism in this administration, you probably ought to say more about the capture technologies that are proposed, what their impact is, what their cost is, how long it takes to implement them, how long it takes to approve them (in case they can be stonewalled for a few years while the permit or approval is under review).

    Too many moves to date by the EPA have been of a stripe to make them thoroughly untrustworthy as standards setters. They have become tool for extra-legal policy enforcement – no, they don't make law, they make regulations – and the Congress can overrule those regulations… you know, the people that are elected).

    Provide information about the systems and their tradeoffs and you will gain credibility for your issue. Provide a script and an email template and you become just another noise.

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