methane

Sat, 2014-08-02 07:31Sharon Kelly
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As Energy Department Announces Methane Measures, Critics Call for Stronger Action

On Tuesday, the White House released a report estimating that delaying action on climate change could cause $150 billion a year in damage to the U.S. economy.

“These costs are not one-time, but are rather incurred year after year because of the permanent damage caused by increased climate change resulting from the delay,” the assessment warned.

That same day, President Obama announced moves to help reduce greenhouse gasses. But some critics charge that the President's actions have so far failed to be proportionate to the crisis the White House predicts.

As DeSmog reported, on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency's program on natural gas pipeline leaks came under fire from the EPA's own internal watchdog. The EPA inspector general lambasted the agency for setting up rules that rely heavily on voluntary leak repairs by pipeline companies while turning a blind eye to state policies that allow those companies to simply pass the price of leaking gas to consumers instead of making costly repairs.

The resulting leaks, the EPA audit concluded, cost consumers over $192 million and the resulting greenhouse gasses each year were equal to putting an addition 2.7 million cars on the road.

On the heels of that report, the Obama administration announced that it would adjust its methane pollution controls — but the measures they announced fell far short of what some experts argue is necessary to curtail methane's climate hazards. The Department of Energy's new measures include adjustments to its voluntary leak control program and add funding for research into ways to better curb leaks.

While we applaud the commitments made by DOE, labor unions, utility groups, and other stakeholders,” Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel told the Oil and Gas Journal, “voluntary measures and new research initiatives don’t adequately protect communities and the climate.”

Tue, 2014-07-29 05:00Sharon Kelly
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EPA Internal Audit Finds Flawed Pipeline Oversight Adds $192 Million a Year to Gas Bills, Harms Climate

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog, the inspector general released a scathing report on the agency's failure to control leaks from the nation's natural gas distribution system.

The report, titled “Improvements Needed in EPA Efforts to Address Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines,” describes a string of failures by the EPA to control leaks of one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane, from the rapidly expanding natural gas pipeline industry.

“The EPA has placed little focus and attention on reducing methane emissions from pipelines in the natural gas distribution sector,” the report begins. “The EPA has a voluntary program to address methane leaks — Natural Gas STAR — but its efforts through this program have resulted in limited reductions of methane emissions from distribution pipelines.”

To date, the industry has faced little binding regulation on leaks, in part because the EPA assumes that pipeline companies will not allow the product they are attempting to bring to market to simply disappear. But the reality is that when gas is cheap and repairs are expensive, pipeline companies often put off repairs unless there's a threat of an explosion.

Under many state policies, pipeline companies would have to pay upfront costs for pipeline repairs — or they simply choose to pass the cost of lost gas from unrepaired leaks on to consumers, an issue that the audit faults the EPA for failing to take into account.

Nationwide, the Inspector General report concluded $192 million worth of natural gas was lost from pipelines in 2011 alone.

Mon, 2014-05-19 14:43Brendan DeMelle
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Years of Living Dangerously Takes On Climate Denial, Anti-Science Attacks on Climate Solutions

“Sometimes you can't convince people, you just have to defeat them.” That was Washington state governor Jay Inslee's message about dealing with climate deniers today at Climate Solutions' 6th annual breakfast in Seattle.

“We're not going to wait until the last person in Washington understands physics and chemistry in order to confront climate change,” Inslee said, describing his view that the climate policy debate essentially pits optimists against pessimists. Those who understand the urgent need to address climate change are the optimists who see climate solutions as beneficial for our health and economic prosperity, while those who deny the problem or think there's nothing we can do about it are the pessimists. Nobody likes a pessimist. 

Governor Inslee was joined on stage today by David Gelber, the executive producer of the must-watch Showtime climate change series, Years of Living Dangerously. These two optimists were both in agreement that “climate deniers are really back on their heels,” as Gelber said about the increasing public pressure for politicians to stop waffling and move ahead with climate solutions. 

Pacific Northwest coal export proposals were a hot topic of conversation, as usual whenever Governor Inslee makes a public appearance these days. Gelber noted that the potential climate impacts of coal expansion are “every bit as important” as the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and urged the media to be more aggressive in covering climate threats since we face “civilizational suicide” if we fail to act. 

Gelber shared several stories about the success of the Years series in its first season, and revealed plans for wider distrubtion once the Showtime run concludes. The series will be released on DVD approximately three months after the final episode of season one airs, and the producers are getting closer to securing international distribution agreements. That will be welcome news to fans outside the U.S., along with the many schools and universities that want to screen the series for their students, Gelber said. 

Governor Inslee was featured in episode 5 for his leadership as a climate-focused governor who won election on a platform of climate action promises. That episode also looked at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's refusal to acknowledge the role that climate change played in amplifying the impacts of Superstorm Sandy. The highlight of the episode is the conversion of Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), a former climate skeptic who accepts the scientific consensus by the end of the episode in an interview with host Chris Hayes. 

If you happen to have Showtime or know someone who does, tune in tonight at 8pm for episode 6, which looks at two important story lines that will be familiar to DeSmog readers.

Mark Bittman hosts the “Chasing Methane” segment looking at the climate impacts of natural gas development, while America Ferrera hosts “Against the Wind,” a segment looking at the anti-science attacks on renewable energy by the Heartland Institute and other fossil fuel front groups. That segment features an interview with yours truly as well as Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves examining the history and tactics of James Taylor and Heartland with America Ferrera.  

Thu, 2014-05-15 13:00Anne Landman
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Colorado Oil and Gas Operations Emitting Far More Benzene, Methane Than Expected

Gas pumpjack in Weld County, Colorado

Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado's front range are pumping almost three times more methane and seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Benzene is a regulated air toxin that causes cancer and methane is 20 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Researchers collected air samples from an airplane over Weld County over two days in May 2012. Previous studies measured air samples taken at ground-level or from a 985-foot tall tower. This is the first study to measure airborne contaminants from an airplane.

Researchers found that 24,000 active oil and gas wells active in Weld County in May 2012 were emitting a total of 19.3 tons of methane each hour, or about triple the amount the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated would come from industry-reported emissions.

Drilling operations emitted benzene at a rate of 380 pounds each hour, or about seven times more than the 50 pounds an hour the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated based on industry-reported data.

Wed, 2014-04-16 13:09Sharon Kelly
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Study Finds Methane Leaks 1,000 Times EPA Estimates During Marcellus Drilling

This week, a United Nations panel on climate change issued one of its most urgent warnings to date, explaining that unless major changes to greenhouse gas emissions are made within the next few years, it will become extraordinarily difficult to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.

We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee, told The New York Times

With the time to cut emissions running out, the Obama administration has seized upon the hope that greenhouse gasses can be cut dramatically by switching from coal to natural gas, because gas gives off half as much carbon dioxide as coal when it’s burned. Indeed, when the EPA published its annual greenhouse gas inventory this Tuesday, it credited a switch from coal to natural gas with helping to cut carbon emissions nationwide.

But a new scientific paper, also published Tuesday in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, further upends the notion that the current shale gas drilling rush is truly helping the U.S. cut its total greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, the evidence suggests, the Obama administration has understated the full climate impacts of natural gas, focusing too much on only carbon dioxide and failing to take into account another key greenhouse gas: methane.

The paper, the first to directly measure methane plumes above natural gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, recorded methane leaks far more powerful than EPA estimates. Methane is especially important because its global warming effects are at their strongest during the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere — in other words, during the small window of time identified as crucial by the U.N.’s climate panel.

Sun, 2014-04-06 11:18Sharon Kelly
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Responding to Investor Pressure, ExxonMobil Agrees to Disclose Fracking Risks

ExxonMobil, the nation's largest oil and gas company, will begin disclosing risks associated with shale drilling and fracking to investors, in response to a long-running campaign by a coalition of shareholders.

In February, the groups of investors in a handful of major oil and gas companies including Exxon, Chevron and EOG Resources, demanded for the fifth year in a row more information from companies about the risks associated with fracking. The motion won the support of over 30 percent of Exxon shareholders — an unusually strong showing for a shareholder resolution.

On Thursday, the investors’ coalition announced that Exxon was the first company to agree to disclose risks. The company will publish a report by September that will describe fracking’s potential harm to air quality, water and roads, as well as risks associated with the chemicals used. Exxon agreed to follow criteria identified in a 2013 report, cited by the coalition and called Disclosing the Facts: Transparency and Risk in Hydraulic Fracturing Operations, in which Exxon received a failing grade for its transparency.

We have seen the significant risks that come from hydraulic fracturing activities,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, custodian and investment advisor for the New York City Pension Funds’ $144 billion in assets, including $1.02 billion in ExxonMobil stock. “Corporate transparency in this arena is truly necessary for assessing risk and ensuring that all stakeholders have the information they need to make informed decisions.”

However, Exxon’s first report will not disclose data on methane leaks – information that shareholders argued strongly should be made public. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has climate changing effects over 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide during the first two decades after it escapes to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Mon, 2014-02-24 15:13Anne Landman
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Colorado Becomes First State to Regulate Methane Pollution from Fracking

Colorado has become the first U.S. state to pass rules regulating methane air pollution from drilling and fracking operations.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted 8-1 on Sunday, February 23, 2014 to require oil and gas companies operating in the state to start testing their pipelines, drill rigs, storage tanks, compressor stations and other sources of potential methane leakage on a monthly basis using new, more sensitive instruments like infrared cameras.

Companies will also be required to monitor, detect and repair leaks of other types of hydrocarbons, like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They must also provide aggressive timelines for the repair of any leaks, and the new rules put stricter limits on emissions from drilling operations located near residential and recreational areas.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment expects the new rules to reduce VOC emissions in Colorado by approximately 92,000 tons a year, about equivalent to the amount emitted by all of the cars in Colorado over one year.

The new rules grew out of a collaboration between a coalition of environmental groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund and three of the largest energy companies operating in the state: Noble Energy, Inc., Encana Corporation and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.  

Some industry groups tried to weaken the rules by arguing they should only apply to more heavily populated areas of the state and not statewide, but the AQCC resisted efforts to water down the new rules and adopted them largely as they were written, citing overwhelming public support for reining in air pollution from the drilling industry.

The new rules may also boost employment in the state. A spokesman who testified before the AQCC on behalf of Noble Energy said it will cost the company $3 million and they will have to hire 16 additional people to comply with the new rules. 

Mon, 2014-01-13 01:30Sharon Kelly
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New Carbon Rules for Power Plants A Missed Opportunity To Rein in Natural Gas Emissions, Critics Say

One of the linchpins of the Obama administration’s high-stakes plan to address climate change moved one step closer to implementation this week, as the EPA officially published proposed new carbon emissions standards for power plants, drawing fire from environmentalists who say the rules for natural gas power plants are too lenient.

The proposed rules cover both natural gas and coal-fired electrical plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The rules would make it virtually impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be built, unless carbon capture and sequestration technology is used, but sets standards that can be easily achieved by natural gas power plants without using any similar tools.

This has led to an outcry from environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.

“If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing greenhouse pollution from all power plants — regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal,” Bill Snape, the senior counsel for the Center said in a statement. “The bottom line is that we can do better.”

The rules for coal plants are not expected to have much direct impact on new power plant construction plans—utilities planned to build very few coal plants even before the EPA proposed its rule.

But once they are finalized, the standards for new power plants will trigger a key clause of the Clean Air Act, and the EPA will next be required to create similar carbon dioxide emissions guidelines that would govern the existing 6,500 coal and natural gas power plants nationwide.

It’s important because it establishes the form that these regulations will take,” John Coequyt, of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign told ThinkProgress.

The EPA move is part of Mr. Obama’s overall climate strategy, which disappointed many observers who criticize its support of fracking and its underwhelming effectiveness. “The Obama administration is aiming for reductions by 2020,” Brad Plumer wrote in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog earlier this week. “But that's not nearly enough to avert a 2°C rise in temperatures, which is the broader goal.”  

Mr. Obama’s climate plan calls for a heavy reliance on natural gas, which produces roughly 50 to 60 percent as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned, to help transition away from coal. But there is strong evidence that natural gas, which is primarily composed of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, may be worse for the climate than coal. The Obama climate plan, in that case, would represent a move from the frying pan into the fire.

Mon, 2013-10-14 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Sun, 2013-10-06 21:16Steve Horn
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NY Times' Joe Nocera Overlooks Key Flaws in EDF Fracking Climate Change Study

Yesterday, New York Times' columnist Joe Nocera weighed in on the study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin) on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)DeSmogBlog got a special mention in Nocera's op-ed titled, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.” 

Nocera praised UT-Austin Professor David Allen and colleagues for obtaining what he claimed was “unassailable data” on fugitive methane emissions and fracking's climate change impact potential. 

“The reason the Environmental Defense Fund wanted this study done is precisely so that unassailable data, rather than mere estimates, could become part of the debate over fracking,” wrote Nocera. “You can’t have sound regulation without good data.”

Missing from Nocera's praise: new findings by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change in their latest comprehensive review of the climate crisis.

IPCC revealed “over a 20-year time frame, methane has a global warming potential 86 [times the amount of] CO2, up from its previous estimate of 72 [times],” as explained by Climate Progress' Joe Romm.

In juxtaposition, Nocera dismissed DeSmog's criticisms of the study - one we referred to as “frackademia.” 

Simplifying the crux of my 3,000-word DeSmog critique and the 800-word follow-up as “because the nine companies involved had both cooperated and helped pay for it,” Nocera then rhetorically asks “why a study that necessitated industry cooperation and money is inherently less valid than a study produced by scientists who are openly opposed to fracking was left unanswered.”

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