The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

What We Know on Methane: Falling Emissions

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted October 22, 2014

This from Judi Greenwald, the Energy Department’s deputy director for climate, environment and efficiency, talking about methane regulation during a panel discussion this week (as reported by Fuel Fix.com):

“We know enough to act. There are uncertainties about methane emissions — and part of the administration’s strategy is to improve our numbers — but we know enough to take some action, and this problem may be easier to solve than many characterize.”

While others talk about methane and problem solving, industry already is significantly lowering methane emissions – even as natural gas production soars, thanks to safe fracking:

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According to recent EPA data, industry efforts have reduced methane emissions from hydraulically fractured wells 73 percent over the past three years. EPA:

Reported methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems sector have decreased by 12 percent since 2011, with the largest reductions coming from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells, which have decreased by 73 percent during that period. EPA expects to see further emission reductions as the agency’s 2012 standards for the oil and gas industry become fully implemented.

That last sentence is important, referring to “green completions” rules that become standard in January. Industry already is moving into compliance, and emissions are lower. Even so, before one set of regulation takes full effect, there’s clamoring for more. Howard Feldman, API’s director of science and regulatory affairs:

“We’re proud to see our industry’s efforts demonstrated in EPA data that show emissions are far lower than EPA projected just a few years ago, even as U.S. production has surged. Creating good paying jobs and growing the economy go hand in hand with our efforts to reduce emissions both voluntarily and in compliance with EPA emissions standards that take effect in January. … Industry will continue to be a leader in environmental stewardship as it maintains our country’s leadership position as the top producer of natural gas.”

In the Fuel Fix article Greenwald refers to the diversity of methane sources. Of course, methane from livestock is the leading source, as EPA notes in its 2014 inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas systems (including production and distribution) are No. 2, but they’ve decreased 17 percent since 1990. EPA:

The decrease in CH4 emissions is largely due to the decrease in emissions from production and distribution. The decrease in production emissions is due to increased voluntary reductions, from activities such as replacing high bleed pneumatic devices ... (Emphasis added.)

EPA says emissions from field production of natural gas accounted for 32.2 percent of methane emissions from natural gas systems in 2012, but adds that those have come down more than 25 percent since 1990 – which is noteworthy when you factor in that natural gas production ramped up with the introduction of advanced fracking and horizontal drilling in the mid-2000s. EPA:

Emissions from this source … then declined by 39.4 percent from 2006 to 2012. Reasons for the 2006-2012 trend include ... increased voluntary reductions over that time period (including those associated with pneumatic devices), and Reduced Emissions Completions (RECs) use for well completions and workovers with hydraulic fracturing. (Emphasis added.)

What should be clear is that action for the sake of action is a poor way to develop public policy. Emissions are falling as industry develops technologies and methods to capture fugitive emissions – which can be used to power field equipment or that can be marketed.

We know the administration is feeling pressure to pile on new methane regulation from those who’re more interested in halting natural gas development altogether than in making the process better for the environment – which demonstrably is industry’s history and continuing goal. Policy, however, should be based on facts and reality, not a political agenda that would stunt America’s energy revolution.

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.