Study Shows Oil and Gas Industry Can Reduce Methane Emissions By 40 Percent
After analyzing data and commentary from producers, pipeline operators, equipment vendors, service providers and more, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and ICF International conclude that the onshore oil and gas industry could collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 40 percent below 2018 projections.
According to a report released Monday, the organizations say that could be accomplished by adopting nearly a dozen emissions control strategies across 19 different sources within five years. The most economical of these measures could save the industry a combined $164 million per year.
As people across the country continue advocating for fracking bans, methane emissions are one of the main problems associated with this dangerous practice. For example, there are more than 51,000 fracking wells that leak methane in Colorado, the state where groups recently launched a state ballot initiative that would give residents control over whether to allow fracking in their communities.
The report's suggested measures include shifting to lower-emitting valves—or pneumatics—that control routine operations, as well as improving leak detection and repair to reduce unintended methane leaks from equipment, which are also known as “fugitives.”
"Even absent methane leaks—which countless studies show are very significant—natural gas cannot save us from climate catastrophe," said John Armstrong of Frack Action. “As studies looking only at the carbon dioxide footprint of natural gas have shown, continuing and expanding natural gas production is a one-way street to calamity. Further, fracking contaminates people's water, poisons their air and makes them sick.
"All told, fracking is an inherently bad technology and not a solution to our climate problem."
After taking a look at the report, Colorado environmental activist Gary Wockner said that the savings earned from controlling some leaks likely would not be enough to combat emissions from so many fracking wells in his state.
"If EDF really wants to address the global threat of climate change, they need to support fracking bans and a massive shift away from all fossil fuels," he said.
Here are a few of the study's key conclusions:
- Methane emissions from oil and gas activities are projected to grow by 4.5 percent from 2011 to 2018. Nearly all of the projected net growth is from the oil sector, mostly from flaring and venting of associated gas. Nearly 90 percent of the emissions in 2018 will come from sources that existed in 2011.
- 22 of the more than 100 emission source categories account for more than 80 percent of the emissions in 2018, primarily at existing facilities.
- A 40-percent reduction in onshore methane emissions is projected to be achievable with existing technologies and techniques at a total net cost of 66 cents per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of methane produced, or less than 1 cent per Mcf of gas produced, taking into account savings that accrue directly to companies that implement methane reduction measures.
- If the full economic value of recovered natural gas is taken into account, including savings that do not directly accrue to companies implementing methane reduction measures, the 40-percent reduction is achievable while saving the U.S. economy and consumers more than $100 million per year. The cost for some measures and segments of the industry is more or less than the net total. The initial capital cost of the measures is estimated to be about $2.2 billion with the majority of the costs in the oil and gas production segments.
“ICF’s in-depth analysis points out the vast potential this nation has to address one of the key environmental issues confronting U.S. oil and gas development,” EDF President Fred Krupp said. “We now have a clear path to protecting American communities and the global climate from methane pollution—and it turns out to be an extremely low-cost path.
"This report is a call to action for common-sense policymaking and accelerated industry leadership starting now.”
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
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