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Ohio Utica Shale

EDF knocks API for misstating findings of methane report

By Bob Downing Published: September 28, 2013

From the Environmental Defense Fund on Sept. 26:

(New York– September 26, 2013) In an email blast to Capitol Hill staffers this week, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard made false claims about a much- discussed new University of Texas methane emissions study. Gerard said the study “proves” that “hydraulic fracturing is safe for the environment.” To support that inaccurate claim, the email cherry picks findings from the recently published UT study, which was coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and focuses on natural gas production, the first phase in the supply chain. Gerard used study results that measured emissions below previous estimates, ignored others that found higher than estimated methane emissions, and implied that the study gave a complete picture of system emissions when it only deals with the production phase.

“API is deliberately twisting the science to support its agenda. That’s irresponsible and misleading to the public,” said Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President and Chief Counsel of EDF’s US Climate & Energy Program.

“Above all, Jack Gerard ignores the fact that the reason some study measurements came in below previous estimates is because the Environmental Protection Agency imposed new rules on natural gas production – rules that API lobbied to significantly weaken. EPA got the rules right for controlling emissions from well completions, and that’s why production emissions are coming down. But that’s not the whole story. We know a significant amount of methane is lost into the atmosphere as new U.S. natural gas supplies are developed. There is still a lot of work to do before we can draw conclusions about system-wide emissions. The UT study is a major step toward improving our understanding of how much methane is actually being emitted, but it is only one step,” Brownstein said.  

The peer-reviewed study is the first of 16 scientific evaluations of methane emissions associated with today’s natural gas system: production, gathering and processing, transmission and storage, local distribution, along with commercial trucks and refueling stations. This initial study focused on production, or the extraction of natural gas, from shale gas wells using hydraulic fracturing. Nine natural gas companies volunteered to participate in the study and provided UT researchers with access to their facilities and equipment for testing.

API’s email campaign, sent to House and Senate offices on September 24, bases its interpretation of the UT study on the finding on “well completions” – the process of getting the well ready to produce gas after it is drilled and fractured. UT estimated production sector methane emissions to be roughly in line with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest estimates, while emissions from well completions were significantly lower. A majority of wells tested used “green completions,” a method of capturing emissions that will be required by EPA for new natural gas wells beginning in January 2015. The study indicates that green completions are highly effective in reducing methane emissions, but no data exists on how many producers nationwide currently use such practices.

These findings taken in isolation present an inaccurate summary of the UT study. Other key findings include: methane emissions associated with equipment used to control routine operations at well sites were 63 percent higher than current EPA estimates. Fugitive methane — unintentional leaks from piping, valves, separators and compressors — were 38 to 69 percent higher. Finally, emissions measured from chemical injection pumps (used at the wellhead to keep pipelines flowing) were 100 percent higher than EPA estimates.

“The UT study in its entirety is not all good news,” said Brownstein. “The data points to additional opportunities for producers to further reduce methane emissions. This includes using green completions to capture emissions from shale oil and co-producing oil and gas wells, and addressing activities where emissions were well above estimates. The policy implications are clear: We need to extend these effective new EPA rules to all wells not covered by the regulations now, and write new rules to measure and reduce emissions resulting from valves, leaks, pumps and other equipment of the like. We know enough to get started plugging leaks.”

Full details on the UT study findings, access to the dataset and an overview of the second phase of data collection, already underway, is provided on UT's methane website.

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