Energy Week Ahead: Oversight Panel to Examine Gas Well Emissions

A U.S. Senate panel will explore ways to reduce the amount of potent greenhouse gases that escape during natural gas and oil operations.

Sarah Dunham, director of the Office of Atmospheric Programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is scheduled to be the lead witness at tomorrow’s hearing. The oversight panel of the Environment and Public Works Committee also will hear from Mark Boling, general counsel for gas driller Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN), and A. Daniel Hill, head of the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M University.

Witnesses will discuss technologies that reduce methane emissions that occur from drilling, according to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat who heads the panel.

“Unburned methane in the atmosphere contributes significantly to climate change,” Whitehouse, said in an e-mail. “As domestic natural gas production grows in the coming years, fugitive methane emissions will be a source of lost profits for producers and will pose a growing threat to our environment.”

When burned to produce electricity, natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as coal. If too much methane escapes during production or transportation, the environmental benefit is lost.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is 21 times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. A boom in U.S. natural gas supplies brought on by hydraulic fracturing has sparked a debate over whether expanding the use of gas sets back efforts to fight climate change.

A September study that examined only stray emissions from gas wells found that 0.42 percent of gas produced in the U.S. is released into the atmosphere. A 2010 Cornell University study using data provided by drillers estimated leakage at 0.6 percent to 3.2 percent.

The EPA in 2012 issued the first rules to fight air pollution from gas drilling. The regulations require operators to use a technology known as green completions in which escaping gas is captured.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING:

CARBON SEQUESTER: Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will address a ministers meeting of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in Washington, Which runs from today through Thursday. In addition to Moniz’s speech on Thursday, Tom Fanning, the chief executive officer of Southern Co. (SO), which is building a carbon-capture coal plant in Mississippi, and Kai Bjarne Lima, vice president for carbon management at Statoil ASA (STL), will address the gathering.

ENERGY EXPORTS: Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, discusses the benefits of exporting natural gas to energy-hungry countries such as Japan during a panel sponsored by the American Council for Capital Formation on Thursday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at jefstathiou@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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