The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory today, which shows a dramatic decline in methane emissions from natural gas production in recent years. The new data come as the Obama administration is moving forward with new regulations on fracking, including rules for development on federal lands, which many have said are costly and unnecessary.
According to the EPA, methane emissions from natural gas production have fallen 38 percent since 2005. Over the same period, U.S. natural gas production has increased by 26 percent. The EPA credits a number of factors for the decline, including the voluntary efforts by producers to reduce and prevent emissions. From the inventory:
“The decrease in production emissions is due to increased use of plunger lifts for liquids unloading, from regulatory reductions such as reductions from hydraulically fractured gas well completions and workovers resulting from the 2012 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for oil and gas, and from a variety of voluntary reduction activities. The decrease in distribution emissions is due to a decrease in unprotected steel and cast iron pipelines and their replacement with plastic pipelines.” (ES-14)
Also notable is the fact that methane emissions from crude oil production fell largely through voluntary efforts, as well:
“Since 1990, CH4 emissions from production of crude oil have decreased by 21 percent. This net decrease is due mainly to increasing voluntary reductions through Natural Gas STAR in the production segment.” (3-58)
While emissions from the entire natural gas supply chain increased slightly in 2013, emissions from the actual production phase decreased dramatically, as EPA’s inventory clearly shows. Interestingly, the Obama administration’s proposed new rules for fracking primarily target the production phase.
EPA’s data corroborate a number of recent studies, including a recent report by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which found that methane leakage rates from three major shale developing regions – the Haynesville shale region in Texas/northwestern Louisiana, the Fayetteville shale region in Arkansas, and the northeastern Pennsylvania portion of the Marcellus shale – were exceedingly low, at about 1.1 percent of production. Importantly, as that study also found, these areas collectively represent over half of the United States’ total shale gas production.
A study published late last year by researchers at the University of Texas — as well as studies by MIT, the University of Maryland, multiple reports from the U.S. Department of Energy, Carnegie Mellon and even Cornell University — shows methane leakage rates are far below the threshold for natural gas to maintain climate benefits. Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found in its latest climate assessment that “the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply…is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”