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Voluntary Reporting of Methane Leaks Not Working, EDF Report Says

The oil and natural gas industry is failing to adequately report methane leaks from the U.S. oil/gas supply chain, according to a report aimed at investors released Monday by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Based on the EDF study of 65 companies, "Rising Risk: Improving Methane Disclosure in the Oil/Gas Industry," companies in the industry are not reporting steps and goals for reducing their methane emission levels from ongoing operations. The report recommends new approaches to reporting, and during a conference call Monday to introduce the study, EDF officials indicated they believe voluntary reporting is not working.

Among 65 companies (40 producers and 25 midstream) surveyed via public records, only 18 reported methane emissions, according to the EDF report. "Even fewer companies provided detailed information on how they are managing their emissions; zero companies provided quantitative reduction targets, and one company provided comprehensive information regarding their leak detection and repair programs."

"Investors and regulators are increasingly scrutinizing the disclosure, or lack thereof, of risks from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for climate change," said Mark Brownstein, EDF vice president for climate and energy programs, who thinks these same investors and regulators increasingly are zeroing in on methane, which represents 25% of the planet-warming emissions.

Brownstein cited the Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) two-month-old gas storage well leak in California (see Daily GPIJan. 11a; Jan. 11b) as the major example of the need to curb methane emissions, labeling it as "one of the largest environmental disasters since the [BP] deepwater Horizon's offshore oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

While he acknowledged the SoCalGas leaking well was an extreme example, Brownstein said it is emblematic of the fact that was verified by 16 EDF-sponsored studies in recent years that show methane is leaking in every segment of the natural gas supply chain (see Daily GPIDec. 8, 2015).

Ironically, last year, in selected parts of the Greater Los Angeles area, EDF and Google's Earth Outreach unit were detecting numerous methane leaks and pinpointing the locations for Sempra Energy's SoCalGas utility (see Daily GPIMay 15, 2015).

Monday's EDF report author, Sean Wright, manager of the group's corporate partnerships program, said the report advocates the use of more rigorous and standardized disclosure.

The report opens with a foreward written by the CEO of the $185 billion in assets California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS), Jack Ehnes, who called managing methane emissions "a critical part of the urgent challenge" for addressing climate change. Ehnes said CalSTRS will encourage oil/gas operators to embrace improved emissions disclosure.

Wright said that the lack of transparency found among the largest 65 methane producers, raises questions about smaller companies and shows voluntary programs are not working, along with "creating blind spots for investors. With more attention, the risk can be managed."

Given remarks last Friday and on Monday by Brownstein and other EDF officials, NGI asked if the national environmental organization has made a policy decision to advocate the closure of all U.S. gas storage facilities, and longer term, the elimination of natural gas in the nation's energy mix. Brownstein did not answer the questions directly, saying instead that "natural gas storage is an important component of our gas infrastructure in the United States and plays a significant role in providing energy where and when we need it."

Brownstein reiterated the conclusions of the "Rising Risk" report, which he said is focused on oil/gas industry investors, and "what they should be looking for from operators of oil/gas facilities, specifically in terms of methane emissions. That's very much our focus in putting out this report."

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