EPA Shale Gas Emissions Standards Are 'Too Little, Too Late'
By Carol Linnitt
The gas industry received a blow on April 30 when the nonprofit group Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) released a joint statement by Professors Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell University. According to the release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new emissions standards for methane and volatile organics from shale gas development “must be considered too little, too late” given the urgent need to reduce global levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The gas industry is set to remain the single largest methane polluter in the U.S., according to the release, with an overall GHG footprint surpassing emissions from coal.
The EPA’s new national emissions standards, finalized in mid-April, rely on new air quality measures, the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Pollutants (NESHAPS), that target pollutants discharged during gas extraction activities. New procedures, such as a methane capture technique known as “green completion,” are expected to play a significant role in achieving the new standards.
Howarth and Ingraffea agree these standards are significant and if strongly-enforced could amount to a reduction in methane emissions of about one-third. But despite this achievement, they write, methane emissions remain a serious problem.
“Despite the new regulations, shale gas methane emissions will remain significant, with the estimates of EPA (2011) and Howarth et al. (2011) indicating a likely leakage of 2.5—3.9 percent of the amount of methane produced over the lifetime of a shale-gas well, and possibly as high as 6 percent,” the statement reads.
Despite the EPA’s efforts, which have caught positive attention from prominent environmental groups, Howarth and Ingraffea remain very matter-of-fact about the real issue, which hinges on a nation-wide spread of poor practice. Gas production is plagued with ‘ongoing emission’ problems and the EPA’s emissions standards—while a step in the right direction—just aren’t enough to make the concerns associated with poor practice go away.
Howarth and Ingraffea add that recent scientific studies stress the urgent need to reduce methane emissions globally. "Without immediate changes to our emissions regime we are heading towards “critical changes in the Earth’s climate system such as huge increases in release of methane stored in arctic permafrost, leading to greatly accelerated global warming—within the next 15 to 40 years. These ongoing emissions result from chronic leakages at the well site as well as chronic leakages and purposeful venting associated with gas storage, transmission through high-pressure pipeline, and distribution to consumers.”
More information about the background studies informing the statement can be found on the PSE website.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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