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Industry Report Disputes EPA Gas Methane Numbers

Methane emissions from natural gas wells, particularly those from unconventional wells using hydraulic fracturing (fracking), are 50% lower than the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) estimate in 2010, according to a joint report released by two industry groups last week.

Based on a survey of 91,000 gas wells operated by more than 20 companies, compared to the EPA's survey of 8,880 wells in 2010, the report by America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) and American Petroleum Institute (API) estimated methane emissions from gas wells were 4.42 million metric tons, significantly below the 8.79 million metric tons that the EPA had calculated.

The report, "Characterizing Pivotal Sources of Methane Emissions from Unconventional Natural Gas Production," was conducted by URS Corp. and Thousand Oaks, CA-based consultant Levon Group, and provides the "best most comprehensive estimate" on methane emissions from gas production activities, API's Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs, told reporters during a teleconference. API and ANGA officials contend that the EPA's methane estimates for gas production are overstated due to incorrect information on production activity.

The new report "provides clarity on the actual emissions coming from natural gas operations today and improves upon the outdated, unrepresentative data [the] EPA has relied upon," said ANGA's Chief Economist Sara Banaszak. "With better data from a wider sampling of companies and wells we have set a more accurate baseline for developing future emission estimates for natural gas production."

Specifically, the report found that "methane emissions from natural gas operations, such as liquids unloading, a technique that is used to remove water of the liquids from the well bore, are up to 86% lower than [what] the EPA estimated. In addition, the methane emissions from refracted wells, a technique used to prolong production from existing producing wells, are 72% lower than EPA estimates. Overall the study finds that greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production are as much as 50% lower than figures used by EPA."

The emission estimates in the study are reliable, contend API and ANGA. "The industry has no incentive to fudge the numbers," Feldman said. "We were as much hands off on this study" as possible. The study contractors fact-checked the numbers, Banaszak noted.

The groups were asked why they released their report after -- rather than before -- the EPA came out with its final rule on limiting emissions from oil and natural gas production. The rule, which was issued in mid-April, extended the deadline for full industry compliance to 2015 (see NGI, April 23).

"This is part of an ongoing discussion of what the industry's emissions are," Feldman said. "The issue of what the emissions are from the industry is not over. Companies will be reporting [their emissions] to the EPA later this year."

API and other associations have been silent about whether they will challenge the new EPA emissions rule in court. "We're not prepared right now to address that," Feldman said.

The EPA said it "will review and consider the recently released...report," which ANGA and API provided to the agency last week. "We are always open to reviewing relevant information that may help inform the science around important standards.

"The agency's [existing] methane emissions estimates are based on the best data available, and our NSPS [National Source Performance Standard] was informed by extensive industry feedback and leverages technologies that are already widely deployed by producers. In fact, the standards will allow the industry to capture additional product to be sold at market," EPA said.

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