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Devon Quits EPA Program Charging Misuse of Emissions Data

Devon Energy Corp. is pulling out of a voluntary natural gas well emissions data gathering program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) saying the data has been "irresponsibly and inaccurately used to justify costly regulations" for unconventional drilling.

The EPA's Natural Gas STAR Program was created with industry partners in 1993 to encourage voluntary reductions of methane emissions from producing, processing and transmitting natural gas. Many of the practices encouraged under the program now are required under the Clean Air Act's (CAA) new source performance standards.

Devon and other producers have criticized EPA for using the voluntary data to justify revisions to the CAA that were made final last year, which mandate the use of "green" completions for fracked wells (see Shale Daily, April 19, 2012).

EPA's Gina McCarthy, who as assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation had overseen the rulemaking, has been nominated as EPA administrator by President Obama.

In testimony last June before Senate lawmakers, a Devon executive criticized EPA for operating under a "misperception of initial production from gas wells" that led to a "drastic overestimate of methane emissions" from wells that had been hydraulically fractured (fracked) (see Shale Daily, June 20, 2012).

Now the company will stop participating all together, said Devon Public Affairs Executive Vice President William Whitsitt. He sent a letter explaining Devon's reasons earlier this month to EPA's Roger Fernandez, a Natural Gas STAR team leader.

Devon "has been a major proponent of the program for the last decade," and among other things, it produced a promotional video for the program. "However, Devon now has deep and growing concerns about the manner in which information from our voluntary participation is being used."

Information "provided in good faith by Devon and other operators has been irresponsibly and inaccurately used to justify costly regulations, taint policy research and, most recently, to provide the basis for the notice by seven northeastern states that they intend to sue EPA to require new methane emission standards for the exploration and production sector," Whitsitt wrote. "Specifically, EPA has used Natural Gas STAR reported volumes for gas captured to represent gas that would otherwise be omitted.

"This is a seriously flawed misuse of the data that Natural Gas STAR program professions should recognize, but have apparently made no effort to call attention of other groups within EPA."

Devon executives have made "numerous attempts" to communicate the error to EPA since November 2011, the public affairs chief said. "Devon expected that the Natural Gas STAR team would help to ensure correct and responsive use of its program data by other EPA groups and outside sources, but unfortunately, such efforts have either not been made or have not been successful."

Even though the company is withdrawing from the program, Whitsitt urged Fernandez and his staff to "work to see that others with EPA understand how program data should -- and should not -- be used. Continued misuse can only undermine the reputation of a program that has benefited our sector and the country over a long period during which Devon was a proud Natural Gas STAR Program partner."

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