First Academic Study Released in EDF's Groundbreaking Methane Emissions Series
AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 16, 2013
Unprecedented data collection effort to better understand the climate impacts
of natural gas
AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 16, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --The first of sixteen
methane emissions studies in a comprehensive research initiative organized by
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and involving more than 90partners –
universities, scientists, research facilities, and oil and gas companies – is
now available. The paper, "Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas
production sites in the United States," was published today in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Led by Dr. David Allen at The
University of Texas at Austin (UT), the study took direct measurements of
methane emissions associated with unconventional natural gas production —
specifically, shale gas wells that use hydraulic fracturing.
The UT study, which only deals with the extraction phase of the natural gas
supply chain, is the opening chapter in this broader scientific effort
designed to advance the current understanding of the climate implications of
methane emissions resulting from the U.S. natural gas boom. Methane, the
primary component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas – 72 times more
potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. The nation's largest
single source of methane emissions is the vast network of infrastructure,
including wells, pipelines and storage facilities, that supplies U.S. natural
gas. Experts agree that methane leaked or vented from natural gas operations
is a real concern, yet estimated emission rates vary greatly –from 1 to 8
percent of total production.
"We know that immediate methane reductions are critical to slow climate
change," said Fred Krupp, president of EDF. "But we don't yet have a handle on
how much is being emitted. We need better data, and that's what this series of
studies will deliver. As we understand the scope of what's happening across
the natural gas system, we will be able to address it. We already know enough
to get started reducing emissions, and thanks to the first study, we know that
new EPA regulations to reduce wellhead emissions are effective. EPA got it
Launched last year, the overall research effort is designed to collect methane
emissions data associated with natural gas production, gathering lines and
processing facilities, long-distance pipelines and storage, local
distribution, and commercial trucks and refueling stations. A variety of
scientific methods are being used across the various studies, including
approaches that measure emissions directly at the source and those that use
airplanes or towers equipped with sensors to measure total emissions in a
given area. In some cases, these methods are paired to provide greater insight
and certainty. EDF anticipates all of the projects will be submitted for
publication in peer-reviewed journals.
"The scientific talent leading these studies, the partnership with industry
and access to their facilities, and the diverse research methods used, gives
us the confidence that when the project concludes in late 2014, we'll be able
to greatly increase our understanding of the climate impacts of switching to
natural gas from other fossil fuels, through this unprecedented collective
research effort," said EDF Chief Scientist Steve Hamburg.
UT's peer-reviewed study, the first work published in this overall series,
reports data from emission sources from natural gas production – the first
part of the supply chain. Study results show that total emissions are in line
with EPA estimatesfrom the production of natural gas, yet the distribution of
those emissions among activities differ. Methane emissions are lower than
estimated by EPA for well completions and higher for valves and equipment used
to control routine operations at the well site. All of the data generated in
this study are available for public scrutiny.
According to Hamburg, UT's low well emissions finding indicates an early
phase-in of EPA's New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which requires all
new fractured natural gas wells to either burn-off or use "green completions"
(an emissions control method that routes excess gas to sales), is working.
Results also suggest that these new regulations, which will be fully
implemented in 2015, are having the desired effects. No national survey of how
many operators currently use green completions is available, but the data
suggest that once this practice is required, emissions from this phase of the
production process will decline.
Hamburg also noted that the higher-than-estimated emissions from valve
controllers (also known as pneumatics) and equipment leaks show important
opportunities for reducing methane emissions in the future. Considerable
opportunities exist under the Clean Air Act to strengthen NSPS, including
requiring emissions controls for equipment routinely found at oil and natural
gas production sites, such as valves or connectors at the well pad or pressure
relief valves on storage tanks, and controls for nearly half a million
existing pneumatics at natural gas wells and for the thousands of existing
compressors that move gas from the well through the system to the end user.
Similarly the NSPS do not contain requirements to reduce well completion
emissions from hybrid wells that produce both oil and natural gas, which are
becoming much more common as the price of oil remains high. Robust leak
detection and repair requirements are also necessary to assure the equipment
in the field is operated and maintained properly at all times. Many of the
same cost-effective clean air measures that the NSPS deploys can be used to
reduce emissions from these potentially significant sources. Additional
emissions reduction opportunities should be considered as further data unfolds
around liquids unloading.
Full details on the UT study findings, access to the dataset and an overview
of the second phase of data collection, already underway, is provided on UT's
A key element of UT's study, and the other EDF-industry collaborative studies,
is the focus on ensuring their scientific integrity. Built into the research
process of each of these studies is a Scientific Advisory Panel, experts from
academic and other institutions serve as external advisors and review the
procedures, results and conclusions. An additional independent review is
conducted by the scientific journal to which the study is submitted for
publication — in this case, PNAS — a key step in all studies within this
methane research series.
Findings from this effort will help inform policymakers, researchers and
industry, providing new insights and data about the sources of methane
emissions and illuminating ways to reduce those emissions. The full set of
studies is expected to be published by the end of 2014.
The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure
of all potential conflicts of interest of its researchers. Lead researcher
David Allen serves as chair of the Environmental Protection Agency's Science
Advisory Board, and in this role is a paid Special Governmental Employee. He
is also a journal editor for the American Chemical Society and has served as a
consultant for multiple companies, including Eastern Research Group and
ExxonMobil. He has worked on other research projects funded by a variety of
governmental, nonprofit and private sector sources including the National
Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Commission
on Environmental Quality, the American Petroleum Institute and an air
monitoring and surveillance project that was ordered by the U.S. District
Court for the Southern District of Texas.
Financial support for this work was provided by the Environmental Defense Fund
(EDF); Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; BG Group plc; Chevron; Encana Oil & Gas
(USA) Inc.; Pioneer Natural Resources Company; SWEPI LP (Shell); Southwestern
Energy; Talisman Energy USA; and XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary.
Major funding for EDF's 30-month methane research series is provided for by
the following individuals and foundations: Fiona and Stan Druckenmiller,
Heising-Simons Foundation, Bill and Susan Oberndorf, Betsy and Sam Reeves,
Robertson Foundation, Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor, and Walton Family Foundation.
Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national nonprofit organization, creates
transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF
links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships.
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SOURCE Environmental Defense Fund
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