Quantcast

Whistleblower Says EPA Officials Covered Up Toxic Fracking Methane Emissions for Years

Energy

By Nika Knight

Why has the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to take adequate action against disastrous, climate-warming methane emissions from the fracking industry?

Fracked gas flaring at a fracking well near the Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado. Photo credit: WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

An environmental watchdog alleges that the answer may be a years-long, systematic cover-up of the true data surrounding these toxic emissions. That cover-up, the group says, was at the hands of at least one EPA researcher who accepted payments from the oil and gas industry.

In an incendiary federal complaint filed on Wednesday with the EPA's Inspector General, the 28-year-old North Carolina-based group NC WARN wrote that "there has been a persistent and deliberate cover-up that has prevented the agency from requiring the natural gas industry to make widespread, urgently needed and achievable reductions in methane venting and leakage across the nation's expanding natural gas infrastructure."

"Studies relied upon by EPA to develop policy and regulations were scientifically invalid," the organization charged.

Specifically, wrote NC WARN in a press statement, "Dr. David Allen, then-head of EPA's Science Advisory Board, has led an ongoing, three-year effort to cover up underreporting of the primary device, the Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler and a second device used to measure gas releases from equipment across the natural gas industry. Allen is also on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, where he has been funded by the oil and gas industries for years."

"The EPA's failure to order feasible reductions of methane leaks and venting has robbed humanity of crucial years to slow the climate crisis," said Jim Warren, director of NC WARN. "The cover-up by Allen's team has allowed the industry to dig in for years of delay in cutting emissions—at the worst possible time."

The cover-up was discovered by NC WARN, the group wrote in its complaint, when it became aware that the very inventor of the Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler, an engineer named Touché Howard, had been attempting to blow the whistle for years on the crucial instrument's malfunctioning. The critical failure causes the instrument to under-report methane emissions "up to 100-fold," the organization wrote.

Studies have shown the EPA underestimating methane leaks from fracked gas production for years and Howard's own research found that the agency has been "hugely underestimating" methane emissions specifically as a result of the faulty instrument, asCommon Dreams reported.

"In the extreme, that kind of failure could lead to catastrophic explosions," Howard told the Los Angeles Times.

The complaint describes Howard's repeated attempts to warn the EPA and Allen about the instrument and the silence he received in response.

"It appears that the goal of the [University of Texas] team was not to critically examine the problems but to convince [Environmental Defense Fund, who co-authored the study] and its production committee members that no problems existed," NC WARN added.

"We believe Mr. Howard was specifically prevented from providing input because the [University of Texas] team knew that he would be able to show that their counterarguments were faulty and the resulting studies scientifically invalid," the group concluded.

Howard's concerns and the specific mechanical problems of the measurement instrument he has repeatedly pointed out have to this date never been addressed, "resulting in the failure of the EPA to accurately report methane emissions for more than two years, much less require reductions," the complaint noted. "Meanwhile, the faulty data and measuring equipment are still being used extensively throughout the natural gas industry worldwide."

Indeed, a graphic included in the complaint demonstrates that the malfunctioning Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler is relied upon to measure methane emissions at nearly every point in the fracked gas production process:

Natural gas production sectors in which the Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler (BHFS) is used. Diagram source: EPA, via NC WARN

It's no mystery why Allen may have been so determined to fudge the data on toxic fracked gas emissions, NC WARN argued: "His disclosure statements [...] show his research and consulting have long been funded by the oil and gas industry."

NC WARN requested that the EPA Inspector General, the agency's internal watchdog, investigate its allegations of fraud and abuse by Allen and other EPA officials; retract Allen's studies and examine all EPA standards and policies that relied on those studies; conduct a new, scientifically valid study to "accurately quantify methane" emissions from the fracked gas extraction and production process; as well as investigate the EPA's reliance on researchers with industry bias and conflicts of interest.

Moreover, the group recommended that the EPA "redress the damage that has been done" by doing the following:

1. EPA should institute a zero emission goal for methane;

2. EPA should initiate a full regimen for oversight, testing and remediation of methane emissions in the natural gas industry; and

3. EPA should take into account the global warming potential of methane emissions over a 20-year (not 100-year) timeframe.

Warren added that the only permanent solution to the problem of methane leaks is a total ban on fracking: "Fracking for gas and oil must also be stopped for a host of reasons. We're reaching out to communities, workers, advocates and elected officials to join the call for an investigation into EPA's scientific fraud."

"The people of this nation," Warren went on, "must demand that regulators and politicians reject the pervasive pressure of corporate money, stop coddling the polluters—and do their jobs on behalf of the public."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Solar Added More New Capacity Than Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear Combined

'Free Trade' Will Kill Progress on Climate Change, 450 Groups Warn Congress

The Book the Fracking Industry Doesn't Want You to Read

Star Trek Actors Arrested, Call on Gov. Cuomo to Boldly Go Beyond Fossil Fuels

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans

Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.

Read More Show Less

While airlines only serve bottled drinking water directly to customers, they use the plane's water for coffee and tea, and passengers can drink the tap water. Aitor Diago / Getty Images

You might want to think twice before washing your hands in an airplane bathroom.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less