The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Advancing Climate Goals by Leading on Emissions

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 18, 2015

Below is the second in a series of posts on the intersection of energy development and the pursuit of climate goals. Yesterday, API President CEO weighed in on the administration’s Clean Power Plan and its flawed approach of picking winners and losers in the energy sector. Today – rising natural gas use plays a key role in falling emissions of carbon dioxide – even as levels of methane and ozone decline.

Talk of climate change and climate-related goals is everywhere. We pay special attention when the climate talk turns to energy development – because there’s a great climate story stemming from America’s energy revolution.

Let’s start with emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). The U.S. Energy Information Administration tells us that monthly power sector CO2 emissions in April were the lowest for any month since April 1988. That’s a 27-year low:

overall

Not coincidentally, natural gas use is climbing, one of the byproducts of an American energy renaissance built on shale reserves and safe hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. The intersectionavailability of affordable, clean-burning natural gas is directly impacting the power sector in positive ways – among them, helping to drive down CO2 emissions to levels not seen since before the Berlin Wall fell.

The inescapable climate point here is that while there’s lots of talk about meeting climate targets, holding international conferences and summits to develop action plans – the United States already is achieving results.

Smart energy? We see the use of modern technologies and the deployment of innovation to safely and responsibly develop American natural gas as incredibly smart. And that’s the marketplace, not government, leading the way. And industry is doing its part.

Now let’s move to ozone. Soon EPA is expected to unveil more restrictive standards on ozone that could be the most costly regulation ever, potentially putting about half of the United States in non-attainment, impacting GDP and employment on a national scale. Yet, we see by EPA data that ozone levels have fallen 18 percent since 2000 under the current standards:

emissions

We’ve discussed EPA’s ozone proposal a number of times, but Howard Feldman, API’s senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs, talked about new concerns during a conference call with reporters this week.

Feldman said new EPA data shows states are having more trouble meeting current ozone standards than previously thought and that 19 metropolitan areas – including Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – will get more time to comply. Feldman:

“EPA clearly understands that many municipalities need more time to implement the current ozone standards, and yet the agency continues its heedless rush to lower them further. Adding to the absurdity of EPA’s position is the fact that current standards, the strictest ever imposed, are working to improve air quality even though they have not been fully implemented. Further lowering the standard could significantly chill economic investment and activity across the nation.”

Analyzing the three most recent years of ozone data, 217 counties are measured or projected to be out of attainment or in metro areas that don’t meet existing ozone standards, he said. Lowering the standards to 70 parts per billion (ppb) from the existing 75 ppb, the number of counties would increase four-fold to 958, he said. If the standards are lowered to 68 ppb, which EPA reportedly favors, would increase the number of counties in non-attainment to 1,433 or nearly half of the counties or county equivalents in the U.S. Feldman:

“The nation’s air is getting cleaner and will continue to improve as states implement the existing standards. Let’s allow the current ozone rules to work and work together to finish implementing them.”

One more chart, on the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas:

ch4

What’s seen here is that while production of natural gas is soaring, methane emissions are falling. They’re emissions from fracked natural gas wells are down 79 percent since 2005, according to EPA. This is a tribute to industry leadership and the incentive for individual companies to capture as much methane as possible during production to deliver more of it to consumers. From an article in EM magazine for August, produced by the Air & Waste Management Association:

The petroleum and natural gas industry has been working for many years to reduce CH4 [methane] emissions through mandatory and voluntary programs, and reporting these accomplishments through the U.S. Natural Gas STAR program. Some of the emission reduction technologies implemented by industry include installation of vapor recovery units and various types of automated lift systems to control well venting, development of techniques for reduced emission completions, increased use of electric/solar driven pumps and low-bleed pneumatic controllers. Through the efforts of industry partners over 1.2 trillion cubic feet of CH4 emission reductions have been achieved in the U.S. in the twenty year period 1993-2013 …

Again, the point is while climate change and goals for reducing impacts on climate produce a lot of talk, the United States already is seeing significant reductions in key climate and air quality areas. Industry is helping lead the way by safely and responsibly developing the energy that fuels our economy and supports modern lifestyles – a role that also is helping advance climate and air quality goals here in the U.S.

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.