Posted October 7, 2014
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera has a new piece that calls for federal regulation of methane emissions from oil and natural gas production and distribution. Reducing methane emissions is a good idea – and industry has been doing it for years – which makes talk of new regulatory regimes seem odd.
Voluntarily, industry efforts have reduced methane emissions from fracked natural gas wells 73 percent since 2011, according to recent EPA data. That’s actually a fantastic number – one that parallels EPA’s greenhouse gases inventory showing a nearly 40 percent decrease in overall methane emissions from 2006 to 2012 – while natural gas production grew 37 percent:
Reasons for the 2006-2012 trend include an increase in plunger lift use for liquids unloading, increased voluntary reductions over that time period (including those associated with pneumatic devices), and RECs use for well completions and workovers with hydraulic fracturing.
In other words, the oil and natural gas industry is at work on methane emissions-reducing technologies, equipment and other measures – and is being effective, without a new layer of Washington regulation. Industry has ample reason to do so, as API’s Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs, pointed out earlier this year:
“Methane is natural gas that operators can bring to the market. There is a built-in incentive to capture these emissions.”
Back to Nocera’s column. He says industry “should be welcoming sensible regulation.” And we do. New federal rules go into effect in January requiring “green completions” – closed systems that capture greenhouse gases including methane – of natural gas wells. A number of companies already are doing it.
So the question: If industry’s efforts already have reduced methane emissions in the past two years more than Nocera says could be achieved over the next five – and green completions rules become the standard in three months – why the press for yet more regulation from Washington?
Simple: The environmental community is less interested in advancements in emissions-reducing technologies, already coming online, than it is in stopping hydraulic fracturing and natural gas use altogether. Nocera quotes Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Well, here’s EDF’s position on natural gas, as annunciated by Krupp:
“I don’t think the Environmental Defense Fund nor anyone in the environmental community who cares about this issue should be promoting the use of natural gas...”
Yet, banning fracking and natural gas outright is unlikely because, as Nocera writes:
“The natural gas boom that has resulted from fracking has become hugely important to the American economy, providing jobs and a plentiful supply of a low-cost fuel.”
So opponents like EDF reckon they can achieve the same result by smothering natural gas development to death with fracking regulation.
Nocera writes that he would like the benefits of fracking and natural gas as well as reduced methane emissions. Especially contrasted with extremists who would cut short America’s energy renaissance, this is the reasonable, real-world approach that will sustain domestic energy production – and the benefits of job creation, economic growth and greater energy security in the world – while protecting the environment.
The good news is that it’s already happening – with industry leading the way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.