Natural Gas Production, Consumption Rise; Methane Emissions, Air Pollutants Decline

Ahead of expected EPA regulatory action this week, critical air pollutants and methane emissions tied to natural gas production continue to decline, state and federal data shows, as more clean, domestic natural gas is produced and consumed.

Since 1990, methane emissions from natural gas and oil systems declined 23.2%, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported in the annual 2020 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Overall, U.S. methane emission were 18% lower than 1990 levels, and 10% lower than the 2005 peak, EPA’s report found.

As methane is the very product Pennsylvania shale gas producers sell, it makes economic and environmental sense to eliminate leaks to ensure methane is completely captured and transported to market.

“We greatly appreciate the administration’s commitment to American energy jobs, and Pennsylvania’s shale producers will continue to drive new technologies and engineering solutions – including robust leak detection and repair programs as well as vapor recovery systems – that effectively identify, minimize and further eliminate any leaks,” MSC’s Spigelmyer said in response to EPA’s expected regulatory action.

Through industry-led initiatives, deployment of advanced technologies and sharing of best practices through industry-led initiatives like the Environmental Partnership, methane leaks continue to be effectively managed and minimized. Specific advancements to reduce and eliminate leaks include:

  • Using Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) equipment to quickly identify and manage leaks;
  • Eliminating venting and flaring by directing the gas that flows back during well competition activities directly into pipelines;
  • Applying vapor recovery systems to equipment to capture vapor from dehydrators, water trucks and tanks;
  • Using air for pumps and pneumatic controllers instead of gas.

At the state level, Pennsylvania’s effective regulatory framework for upstream and midstream sectors, which has been modernized over the past dozen years, includes specific air quality measures like mandatory inspections, regular reporting, LDAR and other enhanced emission standards.

As proactive environmental action is taken at the wellhead and in-transport, clean natural gas is a key driver of overall U.S. climate progress. Thanks to the increase of natural gas in power generation, the U.S. has seen a 27% decrease in CO2 emissions from electric power generation since 2005.

“This report highlights declining emissions trends since 2005, showing that the U.S. is reducing GHG emissions while still being able to grow a robust economy,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in response to the findings.

At the state level, between 2005 and 2018, volatile organic compound (VOCs) emissions tied to power generation in Pennsylvania – which include carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SOX), and nitrogen oxide (NOX) – have declined 40%, according to the Pa. DEP as natural gas makes up an increasingly larger share of power generation. Individually, Pa.’s power sector SOX and NOX levels have declined 93% and 81%, respectively, during that same time span.

“American natural gas creates good jobs, improves our environment and makes our nation more secure,” Spigelmyer said. “There’s no question that natural gas is responsible for America’s positive climate and environmental progress, especially historic air quality enhancements.”