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EPA to 'Review, Consider' Industry Report on Methane Emissions

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) said it would "review and consider" an industry report's claims that the agency has significantly overestimated methane emissions from natural gas well operations, particularly from unconventional wells using hydraulic fracturing. It contends, however, that its emissions estimates are based on the best data available.

"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 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 standard will allow the industry to capture additional product to be sold at market," the EPA said.

A joint report by America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which was released Monday, found that methane emissions from gas wells are half of what the EPA estimated in 2010. 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 ANGA-API report estimated methane emissions from gas wells are 4.42 million metric tons, far below the 8.79 million metric tons that the EPA had calculated.

"We shared the data with them [EPA] yesterday, but we have not received a formal response," said an API spokesman.

The study, "Characterizing Pivotal Sources of Methane Emissions from Unconventional Natural Gas Production," which was conducted by URS Corp. and Thousand Oaks, CA-based consultant LEVON Group, provides the "best most comprehensive estimate" on methane emissions from gas production activities, Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at API.

The new report "provides clarity on the actual emissions coming from natural gas operations today and improves upon the outdated, unrepresentative data [the] EPA has relied upon," said Sara Banaszak, chief economist and vice president for ANGA. "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, according to 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 said.

The groups were asked why they released their report after -- rather than before -- the EPA came out with its final rule on reducing emissions 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 Shale Daily, April 19).

"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.

In other EPA-related news, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hear testimony Wednesday from Al Armendariz, who resigned as head of the EPA's Dallas office in April following a public outcry over his remarks favoring a "crucify them" approach to enforcement of the oil and gas industry. State and Native American regulators also will appear before the House panel.

In a video that was made in 2010 but only surfaced in late April, Armendariz said his enforcement approach "was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere; they'd find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years (see Shale Daily, May 1)."

The video was made public by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. On Monday, he made public a second video in which EPA Region 1 (New England) Administrator Curt Spaulding admitted that agency regulations will block the construction of new coal plants. "If you want to build a coal plant, you got a big problem," he told a Yale University gathering.

Spaulding went on to explain that the decision to kill coal was painful "because you've got to remember that if you go to West Virginia, Pennsylvania and all those places, you have coal communities who depend on coal. And to say that we just think those communities should just go away, we can't do that. But [Administrator Lisa Jackson] had to do what the law and policy suggested. And it's painful. It's painful every step of the way."

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