Why the new EDF report doesn’t mean natural gas is a climate friendly fuel
The Environmental Defense Fund, partnered with the oil and gas industry, published a paper yesterday that reports the results of direct measurements of methane emissions from 27 natural gas well completions (out of more than 20,000 well completions that occur in any given year).
The EDF report released today is a direct response to the challenge identified by Howarth: we need direct measurements of methane emissions from all natural gas development to make informed decisions about the climate impacts of natural gas. Unfortunately, the EDF report does not get us what we need.
What is most notable about today’s report is that the methane measurements were all made at sites offered by the industry participants – they were not a random sample of typical gas well sites. Participating companies cherry-picked sites for the study, and the scientists went and studied them.
A state court in New York issued two unanimous decisions last week upholding local bans on oil and gas activity. The court found that having a state policy on the efficient development of oil and gas resources – a policy which many states have - does not equate to an intention to require oil and gas drilling operations to occur in each and every location where the resources are present, regardless of existing land uses.
These decisions in favor of local governance – the heart of our democracy – will send earthquakes through the oil and gas industry, as they represent the biggest fissure yet in the industry’s long efforts to wall off oil and gas regulation at the state level.
In a time when we might hope that the wave of extremists in elected office has peaked, it is disappointing to see a governor who has moved into the ‘anti-democracy’ camp of politicians. Such seems to be the case with Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado.
A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from the governor that led off with “despite what you might have heard, I much prefer drinking beer to frack fluid.” Oh really? You think that this statement will calm my nerves after you spend your time testifying before a U.S. Senate committee about frack fluid being safe to drink?
A string of recent reports and papers have brought to the forefront the value of having publicly accessible, complete and accurate information about gas development.
First, there was the Duke University team that found apparent migration of substantial amounts of methane from gas wells to private water wells as far out as 1000m in the Marcellus play in Pennsylvania.
Increased demand and decreased availability are pushing water quantity to the forefront of public discussion.
The main variable for the volume of water used in fracking is the geology of the basin being fracked.
What do we know about actual volumes of water used in different states to frack the shale formations? Very little, until recently, when a number of states began requiring that water volumes used in hydraulic fracturing operations be reported on the FracFocus website. Colleagues of mine just recently collected the data reported there.
We have released a national report about state enforcement of oil and gas regulations. The national report examines the current state of oil and gas enforcement in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
This report arose from discussions with oil and gas agency decision-makers, inspectors, members of multi-stakeholder oil and gas organizations, former management-level industry employees, oil and gas and environment attorneys, members of conservation organizations, and representatives of academic institutions - all around the question of what makes enforcement effective.
After delay and behind the scenes discussions, the EPA issued the final New Source Performance Standards and New Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants regulations for the oil and gas sector. These federal rules – the first to cover oil and gas exploration and production, including fracking – were the result of a lawsuit by environmental groups.
Generally, the rules will lead to a greater transparency from this industry through required accounting for the numerous sources of emissions that are currently ‘invisible’ due to the lack of regulation. The rules will also provide health benefits to those who live close to the thousands of gas facilities covered by these rules.
Strong enforcement efforts, in combination with this much-needed first step, should better protect the health of families that showed the need for the new rules in the first place.
If you felt the earth tremble beneath your feet this past week, it may not have been because of an earthquake caused by a nearby injection well, or a shale gas well being fracked on your neighbor’s property.
It was more likely because of two things, one good and one bad.
First, the bad news: the EPA confirmed that the presence of contamination in water wells near Pavillion, Wyoming could be due to hydraulic fracturing.
Second, the good news: two states – Texas and Colorado - approved chemical disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing chemicals on the same day.
The larger victory here: the Colorado rule for the first time elevates the community right to know principle (disclosure) above the narrow economic principle of protecting corporate property.
The door has now been opened for other states and the U.S. Department of Interior to step through. Maybe a federal standard on disclosure would be a good next step.