Tuesday, April 30, 2013

EPA Slashes By 20% Fugitive Methane Emissions of Gas Production: What It Does And Does Not Mean

The EPA continues to gather data on the life-cycle emissions of natural gas and its latest update slashes by 20% its methane emission number for natural gas production.  EPA's April 2013 decrease followed an upward adjustment in 2011.  Even prior to this new number for fugitive methane emissions, 6 papers had found that gas emits about 50% less carbon than coal when both are used to generate electricity. The 2013 EPA fugitive methane emissions number will increase further the carbon benefits of gas over coal.

Moreover, there is no argument that gas emits less soot, mercury, lead, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide--all pollutants that sicken and cause premature deaths--than coal.  The EPA new data focuses on the discussion about global warming impacts of gas versus coal and that alone.

As Kevin Begos of the AP reports in the linked to story, Professor Howarth, who authored the single paper contending shale gas emits as much or more carbon than coal, did not welcome EPA's 2013 fugitive gas number.  While there will be continuing data wars about the methane emission rate, perhaps we could all agree that reducing methane emissions from gas production can and must be done.  Indeed, the focus on methane fugitive emissions has almost certainly played a useful role in tightening regulation and in motivating more drilling companies to put resources and attention into cutting emissions through better maintenance, practices, and technology.

Such greater attention does lead to actual cuts in fugitive methane emissions.  Fugitive methane emissions, therefore, are likely declining now in the USA, and future EPA measures of fugitive methane emissions probably will go down again.  That is almost certain once the EPA green completion rule takes full affect in the next two years, as that rule can slash methane emissions during the well completion process by 90%.

Regulators and the gas industry itself should recognize by now that fugitive methane emissions from gas production could be the most important environmental impact associated with natural gas production.  Across the board, gas must cut its environmental footprint, but its carbon impact will be decisive to the climate and to its marketplace and political acceptance.


  1. We would like to see gas companies volunteer now to reduce emissions. We know they have the technology just not the will. Anything and everything that will save some quality of life for the residents of the gasfields should be on the table now.

    1. Amen, but why ask them to volunteer. Why isn't PaDEP and/or USEPA making them do it? I know the O&G lobby contributes tremendous amounts to the political campaigns of our leaders. If that is the reason, we need to break that unsustainable chain of co-dependence.