Quantcast
Energy

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

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

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular
Desperate for water, Puerto Ricans are resorting to any available sources, such as this stream in Cayey. Angel Valentin / NPR

Desperate Puerto Ricans Are Drinking Water From Hazardous Waste Sites

The ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee called for an investigation into the availability of potable water in Puerto Rico following reports Friday that residents are scrounging for water from hazardous waste sites.

After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed residents were trying to access water from three Superfund sites, and following a CNN story Friday featuring Puerto Ricans taking water from a fourth site, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote a letter to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke asking if she knew about the situation and calling the reports "beyond disturbing."

Keep reading... Show less
Brant at Izembek Lagoon. Kristine Sowl / USFWS

Groups Slam Zinke's 'Backroom Deals' to Build Road Through Alaskan Wildlife Refuge

Ryan Zinke's Interior Department is working behind the scenes to build a controversial and long-contested road through the heart of Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, documents show.

The refuge was established more than 30 years ago to conserve wetlands and habitats for migrating birds, brown bears and salmon and other wildlife. 300,000 of its 315,000 acres has been designated as Wilderness in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Keep reading... Show less
FAO / Giulio Piscitelli

On World Food Day, Pope Francis Says Link Between Climate Change and Hunger Is Undeniable

By Andrew McMaster

Speaking at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on World Food Day, Pope Francis addressed the need for governments around the world to acknowledge that climate change and migration were leading to increases in world hunger.

Francis received a standing ovation after a stirring speech in which he said all three issues were interrelated and require immediate attention.

Keep reading... Show less
The pallid bat is native to the western U.S., where the spread of white-nose syndrome is a threat. Ivan Kuzmin / Shutterstock

Why Are America's Bats Disappearing?

By John R. Platt

It's Friday evening in Pittsburgh, and the mosquitoes are out in force. One bites at my arm and I try to slap it away. Another takes the opportunity to land on my neck. I manage to shoo this one off before it tastes blood.

I'm at Carrie Furnaces, a massive historic ironworks on the banks of Pennsylvania's Monongahela River. Stories-tall rusting structures loom all around me, as do the occasional trees poking their way out of the ground. A tour guide, leading a group from the Society of Environmental Journalists conference, tells me the soil here is full of heavy metals and other pollutants from the factory, which operated for nearly a century before closing in 1982.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
The Amur tiger is the extinct Caspian tiger's closest living relative. Mathias Appel / Flickr

After a Half-Century, Tigers May Return to Kazakhstan

Wild tigers may be on their way back to Kazakhstan.

This news is surprising for a few reasons. First, most people associate tigers with the jungles of India or Sumatra, even the snowy slopes of eastern Russia—not the dry landscapes of Central Asia. But Iran, Turkey and Kazakhstan were once home to thriving populations of Caspian tigers. Unfortunately, sometime between the 1940s and '70s, this subspecies went extinct due to widespread trapping, hunting, poisoning and habitat degradation.

Second, Kazakhstan isn't a nation that often comes up in conversations about conservation. In fact, if Americans recognize the world's largest landlocked nation for anything, it's probably the movie Borat.

Keep reading... Show less
www.youtube.com

California Wildfires: One of 'Greatest Tragedies' State Has Ever Faced

With aid from easing winds, the 11,000 firefighters beating back the Northern California wildfires are making "good progress," as the number of major blazes dropped to 15, the state's fire agency Cal Fire announced Sunday.

But as Cal Fire noted‚ "Sadly, the death toll has risen to 40 people."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Bonn Climate Change Conference, June 4 2015. UNclimatechange / Flickr.

UN Urges World Leaders to Heed Climate Risk, Warns of More Severe Disasters

By Paul Brown

The hurricanes and wildfires that have severely damaged large areas of the U.S. in recent weeks have had no impact on President Donald Trump's determination to ignore the perils of climate change and support the coal industry.

In a deliberate denial of mainstream science, the Trump administration has issued a strategic four-year plan for the U.S. Environment Protection Agency that does not once mention "greenhouse gas emissions," "carbon dioxide" or "climate change" in its 48 pages.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
www.youtube.com

Oil Rig Explodes in Louisiana: 7 Injured, 1 Missing

An oil rig exploded on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana Sunday night, injuring seven crew members, with an eighth believed to be missing, authorities said.

The explosion was reported at 7:18 p.m. near St. Charles Parish and the city of Kenner. The platform, located in unincorporated Jefferson Parish, is owned by New Orleans-based Clovelly Oil Company.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox