methane

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.”

Wed, 2013-09-18 05:00Steve Horn
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Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking. 

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle. 

Webster's Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study - based on the oddly rosy findings - it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.  

Mon, 2013-08-05 10:23Steve Horn
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Exclusive: Censored EPA PA Fracking Water Contamination Presentation Published for First Time

DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of an Obama Administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fracking groundwater contamination PowerPoint presentation describing a then-forthcoming study's findings in Dimock, Pennsylvania. 

The PowerPoint presentation reveals a clear link between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas in Dimock and groundwater contamination, but was censored by the Obama Administration. Instead, the EPA issued an official desk statement in July 2012 - in the thick of election year - saying the water in Dimock was safe for consumption.

Titled “Isotech-Stable Isotype Analysis: Determinining the Origin of Methane and Its Effets on the Aquifer,” the PowerPoint presentation concludes that in Cabot Oil and Gas' Dimock Gesford 2 well, “Drilling creates pathways, either temporary or permanent, that allows gas to migrate to the shallow aquifer near [the] surface…In some cases, these gases disrupt groundwater quality.”  

Other charts depict Cabot's Gesford 3 and 9 wells as doing much of the same, allowing methane to migrate up to aquifers to unprecedented levels - not coincidentally - coinciding with the wells being fracked. The PowerPoint's conclusions are damning. 

Mon, 2013-07-29 05:00Steve Horn
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LA Times: EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study

A must-read Los Angeles Times story by Neela Banerjee demonstrates that - once again - the Obama administration put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) groundwater contamination, this time in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Though EPA said Dimock's water wasn't contaminated by fracking in a 2012 election year desk statement, internal documents obtained by LA Times reporter Neela Banerjee show regional EPA staff members saying the exact opposite among friends. 

“In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation…staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production,” writes Banerjee.

“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that 'methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.' The presentation also concluded that 'methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work,” Banerjee further explained.

It's essentially a repeat of Steve Lipsky's water contamination by Range Resources in late-2010 in Weatherford, TexasIn that case, EPA conducted a taxpayer funded study, determined Range had contaminated his water, sued Range - and then proceeded to drop the suit and censor the study in March 2012

EPA also recently kicked the can down the road on a high-profile fracking groundwater contamination study in Pavillion, Wyoming, originally set to come out in 2014. That release is now expected in 2016, another election year. Just days after EPA's decision, a Duke University study again linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale.

Fri, 2013-07-26 09:00Laurel Whitney
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New Nature Study Calls Melting Underwater Arctic Permafrost An "Economic Time Bomb"

Three academics walk into a bar.

After what must have been the worst happy hour ever, they emerge having discovered that melting oceanic permafrost could come with a hefty $60 trillion dollar price tag, slightly less than the entire world economy.

We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher.

Penned in a recent issue of Nature, Gail Whitman (Sustainability professor at Erasmus University Netherlands), Chris Hope (Policy modeler, University of Cambridge) and Peter Wadhams (Ocean physics, University of Cambridge) set out to calculate the economic consequences of an ice-free Arctic, which some have estimated could happen as early as 2020.

Their main concern followed the melting of underwater permafrost - called methane clathrates - in which natural methane gas beneath the ocean is trapped in frozen beds of ice. Normally, the cold temperatures of ocean water and high pressure of ocean sitting atop the clathrates keep them in place. But with the Arctic ice cap quickly melting, the warming may penetrate farther toward the ocean floor and release this 50 Gt reservoir of methane.

Like stinky bubbles emanating from their Arctic bathtub, methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 with about 20x the warming capability, could either be released gradually over time, or in one fell swoop, accelerating atmospheric warming.

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