New Study: Methane Emissions 50% Less Than EPA Estimates

Yesterday, a major URS Corp. and The LEVON Group study was released, underscoring the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wildly overestimated methane emission calculations — by 50 percent — associated with natural gas development and the well completion, or hydraulic fracturing, process. Jointly prepared for the American Petroleum Institute (API) and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), the study “takes the most comprehensive look to date at the issue, analyzing data from nearly 20 percent of all U.S. natural gas-producing wells – a sample size more than 10 times larger than EPA’s,” according to ANGA’s press release.

Interestingly, and as Dow Jones reports, the study determines that “the largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. was ‘enteric fermentation’—gas produced in the guts of cows and other ruminant animals and expelled. The EPA has said natural-gas drilling was No. 1.” PennFuture founder and former PA DEP secretary John Hanger called the study “the single, biggest source of data about methane emissions ever made available for public inspection and discussion.”

Key Study Findings:

  • Methane emissions from natural gas operations such as liquids unloading (a technique used to remove water and other liquids from the wellbore to improve the flow of natural gas) are 86 percent lower than EPA estimated. In addition, the study shows that methane emissions from refractured wells (a technique used to prolong production of an existing gas-producing well) are 72 percent lower than EPA estimates. Overall, the study finds that greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production are as much as 50 percent lower than figures used by EPA.
  • The study’s findings are based on an analysis of data from more than 91,000 U.S. natural gas wells operated across diverse geographic areas by more than 20 companies. The data set represents nearly one-fifth (approximately 18.8 percent) of U.S. wells. The survey was undertaken after EPA, in 2011, introduced new calculation methods for estimating the amount of methane emissions from natural gas operations.

API, ANGA Remarks:

  • ANGA Executive Vice President Tom Amontree: “The EPA has been upfront that its data is limited in scope. This study confirms that EPA’s estimates on emissions from operations are vastly exaggerated. As our nation strives to move toward a cleaner energy future, natural gas is an essential tool that is already resulting in substantial real-world progress. It is our hope that all stakeholders who aim for credible, science-based decision making and dialogue will take note of these findings and more fully consider the vast potential of this cleaner American energy source. For both power generation and transportation, natural gas is a far cleaner alternative. This study confirms for policymakers and the public that the production process does not negate those benefits. Equally important, natural gas companies are continually striving to further reduce their environmental impact.” (ANGA release, 6/4/12)
  • API Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Director Howard Feldman: “Our new report provides the best, most comprehensive estimate of methane emissions from U.S. natural gas production. It’s based on data from ten times as many wells as support the estimate EPA has been using. This emissions information is critically important because it allows oil and gas companies, citizens, and regulators to gauge the industry’s impact on the environment and allows companies to measure continued efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. The API-ANGA emissions estimate, which is half EPA’s estimate, is more accurate because it’s based on emissions from 91,000 wells operated by 20 companies, distributed over a much broader geographic area. EPA’s data were derived from only 8,800 wells. The fact that these emissions are much less than earlier, more limited estimates and the fact that operators are already working to reduce emissions from natural gas production is good news for the future of U.S. natural gas development and the game changing benefits of job creation and economic growth that will come with it.” (API release, 6/4/12)

Indeed, the new study sheds important, fact-based light on the key investments that natural gas producers are taking by continuing to leverage technologies aimed at reducing methane emissions and further reducing the environmental footprint of this tightly-regulated process.

As way of background, upon the release of EPA’s proposed emissions regulations last July, Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) president Kathryn Klaber told Platts that “We look forward to providing EPA with fact-based information regarding our best practices and industry-leading operations. Our state regulators are keeping an eye on the ball. However, it’s not clear if EPA is as well.”

What is now very clear, according to this new study, is that natural gas producers are working tirelessly to ensure that our environment is protected, particularly as it relates to air quality and limiting overall emissions. For information about the new, fact-based study, view this API-prepared overview.