Is the Federal Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions Sufficient?

In March 2014, the White House released its “Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.”  The strategy involves new regulations and voluntary actions to reduce methane emissions from landfills, coal mines, agriculture, and the oil and gas industry.  To go from a published strategy to actual reductions will involve a lengthy negotiation process among various stakeholders, including industry, agriculture, environmental groups and government.  In this blog, we have covered one of the first proposed set of regulations arising from this Strategy, related to landfills.

Why reduce methane emissions?  For the oil and gas industry, the rational for reducing methane emissions goes as follows…

Natural gas consists of methane.  Methane is, pound for pound, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – at least 20 times more potent according to the U.S. EPA, however, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims that it is 34 times as potent as CO2 during the first 100 years and 115 times as potent during the first 5 years.  Throughout the process of extracting gas from the earth, drying and purifying it, and delivering it to the consumer via pipelines, there are thousands of leakage points.  Methane escapes directly to the atmosphere through these leakage points.  I’ve seen varying estimates that anywhere from 2% to 17% of the methane during the entire chain of events from the well head to the use by consumers leaks to the atmosphere.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in Nov. 2013 indicates that the U.S. EPA underestimates the extent of methane leakage from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by about 50%.  The study involved numerous air sampling flights during 2012 over the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania.   There have been other studies, one by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, that confirm that the emissions of methane from fracking and other aspects of the oil and gas industry, have been underestimated.

The EPA released five white papers in April of this year, seeking input on strategies to reduce emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from the oil and natural gas industry.  They can be found here.

I suggest that you conduct your own research on this topic.  You will find that there is a lively back and forth dialogue among scientists on the levels of methane leakage and the contribution of the shale gas industry to global warming.  It is worth your participation.  Not surprisingly, the sponsors of different groups of researchers have a stake in the game.  The oil and gas industry is funding numerous studies, some good and some bad and there is certainly some bias on the side of those who suggest that natural gas is worse than coal.  In my opinion, the vast majority of reputable scientists in this field agree that methane is a significant actor in global climate change and that is worth our effort to more fully understand its potential impacts before we go much further down the road of drastically increased gas extraction.

Give me a call at 215-881-9401 to further discuss methane emissions and global warming.

 

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