Clean-Burning Natural Gas Improves Air Quality

During an online “town hall” forum this week, Gov. Tom Wolf outlined new methane emissions-related regulations despite the clear fact that Pa. DEP and U.S. EPA data demonstrates that emissions are plummeting as natural gas production soars. In fact, thanks to America’s increased production and use of clean-burning natural gas, the U.S. has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions more than any other nation.

MSC’s Dave Spigelmyer reinforced these air quality facts in yesterday’s Tribune-Review: “It cannot be overstated that shale-related methane emissions continue to steeply drop as production sharply climbs.” The MSC, added Spigelmyer, is committed “to working with lawmakers as well as state officials to focus on common sense policies that encourage job-creating natural gas development, which has – according to EPA – helped drive down methane emissions 81% since 2012.

And while some groups continue to make patently false claims – like these for example – here are the facts:

  • EPA Data: EPA recently reported an 81% decrease in hydraulic fracturing-related methane emissions nationwide since 2012.
    • EPA Admin. McCarthy: “Natural gas has been a game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for many decades.” (C-SPAN, 12/2/13)
  • Power Sector CO2 Emissions Reach 27-Year Low: “The electric power sector emitted 128 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MMmt CO2) in April 2015, the lowest for any month since April 1988.” (EIA, 8/5/15)
    • IEA: “The decline in energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. in recent years has been one of the bright spots in the global picture,” the IEA says in a report. “One of the key reasons has been the increased availability of natural gas, linked to the shale gas revolution.” (CNS, 4/14)
  • DEP Data: Pa. DEP’s data shows a 13% decrease in cumulative methane emissions tied to natural gas development in Pa.
  • Univ. of Colo. Study: A recent study found relatively low emissions of methane from major U.S. gas fields. Specifically for the Marcellus, the study found the lowest rate of methane release – 0.18%, well below the widely accepted threshold of 3.2% for natural gas to maintain its climate benefits. (Journal of Geophysical Research, 2/18/15)

What’s more, natural gas development throughout the Commonwealth is a tightly regulated practice, confirmed by regulators and independent environmental review organizations alike:

  • Gov. Ed Rendell and Penn Future Founder John Hanger: “As the two people who enacted four regulatory packages strengthening drilling regulation and led the enforcement of the rules in Pa., we strongly disagree that there is lax regulation and oversight of gas drilling. Pa. has the strongest enforcement program of any state with gas drilling. Period.” (New York Times letter, 3/5/11)
  • DEP Report: “No other state has added more staff, done a more comprehensive strengthening of its rules or more aggressively enforced its rules than Pa. has.” (Times-Tribune, 8/3/10)
  • Independent Reviews Touts Pa.’s Strong Regulations: The State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) – a nonprofit environmental review organization – conducted a programmatic review of DEP’s Oil and Gas bureau in 2010 and 2013, concluding that Pa.’s regulatory program is “well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives.”
  • Industry-Supported Well Permit Fee Increases: In 2010, Pa. DEP – with the support of the industry – increased well permit fees from $100 per well to a sliding scale based on the total depth and length of the well (avg. permit application fees are $3,000). The significant increase allowed the agency to nearly double the number of regulators to more than 200. In early 2014, Pa. DEP proposed – and the industry again supported – another well permit fee increase to $5,000 per well, which is projected to generate an additional $4.7 million and allow the agency to hire new inspection employees in its oil and gas division. As such, Pa.’s well permit fees are the highest among energy-producing states across the nation.
  • Act 13 Regulatory Overhaul: Act 13, an industry-supported, bi-partisan law, strengthened a number of Pa.’s energy regulations, some of which are recognized as the nation’s most rigorous.
    • Voluntary Adherence to Increased Setback Requirements: Act 13 specifically enhanced setback requirements from 300 to 1,000 feet from water wells and springs and 500 feet from structures. While the Pa. Supreme Court rolled back these enhancements, industry remains committed to the more stringent setbacks because it’s the right thing to do.
    • Industry-Supported Baseline Water Testing Expansions: The MSC has supported Act 13-established requirements that state operators who drill gas wells within 2,500 feet of private or public water supply are presumed to be responsible for impacting these water supplies should a complaint arise from the land owner or water purveyor. This encourages the operator to prepare third party baseline testing of all water supplies within 2,500 feet to illustrate the existing conditions of the water supplies. The operator is fully responsible for completing pre and post testing to prove that no impact on water supplies has occurred.

With natural gas development continuing to present historic environmental gains for the Commonwealth – as well as the nation – we must engage in a thoughtful debate, rooted in facts and objective science. For clear data and in-depth research on responsible natural gas development, be sure to visit the MSC’s blog and connect with the MSC on Facebook and Twitter.