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Federal Methane Emission Limits Needed Despite Claims of State, Voluntary Success, EDF Says

Anticipating and advocating the proposed Obama administration methane emissions rules, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) representatives on Monday mounted their soapbox again to beat the drum for tough new requirements that will support the administration's stated goal of reducing the emissions 40-45% by 2025.

Hosting a news media conference call, Mark Brownstein, EDF vice president for climate and energy programs, emphasized that voluntary programs have not worked, and national methane emissions have not been reduced as far and as fast as they need to be. He conceded that emission levels from the oil/natural gas sector have gone down since 2005 (see Daily GPI, April 16).

Brownstein described methane emissions coming from oil/gas operations as "enormous," and said the sector, which contributes 25% of the emissions, has "an equally enormous opportunity" to remove a large chunk of emissions nationally. He and colleagues on the conference call contend there is adequate technology available for the oil/gas sector to decrease methane emissions, but federal mandates are the only way to realize that potential.

Saying that there are still 7 million tons of methane emissions emitted annually in the United States and that EDF research shows it could be at least 50% higher than that, Brownstein alleged that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 20-year voluntary emissions program has seen 99% of the oil/gas industry "fail to step up to the plate."

"This is why we know that regulations are necessary," said Brownstein, while conceding that some companies and states have adopted the process being considered for a national mandate. Rules will assure that "all in the industry do all that they can," he said.

Nevertheless, an earlier EPA study showed methane emissions from hydraulically fractured gas wells declined about 79% since 2005. Methane emissions from natural gas systems totaled 157.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mmtCO2e) in 2013, a 10.7% decrease from 176.3 mmtCO2e in 2005.

Broken down by stage, methane emissions from the field production of natural gas totaled 47.0 mmtCO2e in 2013, a 37.7% decrease from 75.5 mmtCO2e in 2005. Emissions attributed to the distribution stage for natural gas also declined, by 5.9%, during the same time frame -- from 35.4 mmtCO2e in 2005 to 33.3 mmtCO2e in 2013.

But methane emissions increased 38.4% from natural gas processing between 2005 and 2013, from 16.4 to 22.7 mmtCO2e, as did emissions from natural gas transmission and storage, which increased 10.8% between 2005 (49.1 mmtCO2e) and 2013 (54.4 mmtCO2e).

Conrad Schneider, the advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force, said that low-cost technologies are available for reducing methane emissions, but without the upcoming federal rules overall emissions are projected to increase by 25% by 2025.

Brownstein said methane emissions have gone down for a combination of reasons, including state programs in places like Colorado and Wyoming, the EPA's action mandating completion requirements for "green" gas wells, better practices adopted by some companies.

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