*Update* Methane Emissions Flat as Natural Gas Production Soared, EPA Data Show

UPDATE (4/19/2016; 5:15 pm ET) This afternoon, in a conference call with reporters, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said that EPA’s latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory is “seriously flawed and inconsistent with previous EPA reports and other scientific research.”

As Kyle Isakower, API vice president of regulatory and economic policy explained on the call,

“We’re concerned the administration is putting politics ahead of science by turning the numbers on their head. EPA’s inventory has consistently shown a downward trend in emissions even as oil and natural gas production has soared.  Somehow, in this year’s inventory, using a flawed new methodology, EPA has erased that progress from its historic data.

Innovations and leadership by the oil and natural gas industry have caused emissions to go down significantly. We are spending more than ever on reducing emissions, including the green completions the industry invented to capture methane emissions. EPA now requires these completions for all new wells.”

Isakower elaborated, noting that EPA overestimated both the number of sources and the volume of emissions.  As E&E News reports,

“But Isakower said the agency overestimated both the number of potential sources in the oil and gas industry and the rate of methane emissions from those sources.

API pointed to a March study in the journal Science that said the expansion of the U.S. oil and gas industry in recent years has not resulted in a global spike in methane (ClimateWire, March 11).”

Stay tuned for more on this.

— Original Post April 15, 2016 —

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final 2016 Greenhouse Gas Inventory this afternoon. Of course, proponents of EPA’s forthcoming methane regulations are touting this inventory, claiming regulations are necessary because estimates are “higher than previously thought.” But even if we assume that EPA’s revised estimates are correct, the data still show that natural gas production has skyrocketed without a corresponding crisis in methane emissions.

Specifically, EPA’s data show methane emissions from natural gas systems in 2005 were 177.3 MMT CO2 Eq.  In 2014, methane emissions slightly declined to 176.1 MMT CO2 Eq, according to EPA. Meanwhile natural gas production increased 42 percent since 2005. EPA further notes that methane emissions from natural gas systems “have decreased by 30.6 MMT CO2 Eq. (14.8 percent) since 1990.”

If you only look at the numbers from 2010 to 2014, while oil production increased by 59 percent, methane emissions from petroleum systems increased by 26 percent.  Looking at natural gas systems from that same time period, as natural gas production increased by 21 percent, methane emissions increased by only 6 percent.  What this shows is that oil and gas production is far outpacing the rate of methane emissions.

The data still do not indicate that methane emissions will significantly increase, as EPA and groups like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have stated is the justification for costly methane rules.

As Energy In Depth has noted before, EPA’s estimates could be based on faulty assumptions: EPA appears to have taken emissions data from large reporting facilities and simply assumed that much smaller facilities — which do not report to EPA — have similar emissions rates. EPA did something similar in 2013 when one major producer left EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program over “seriously flawed misuse” of data (stay tuned for more on that after we dig further into the report).

But let’s assume for a moment that EPA’s numbers are absolutely correct.  Will regulations make any difference? Energy In Depth recently did the math using EPA’s draft inventory estimates and found that that methane regulations would only achieve a decrease in global temperature of 0.004 degrees Celsius, or four one-thousandths of one degree by the year 2100. Plug in EPA’s final numbers from this latest inventory and the number is virtually the same: EPA’s regulations would avoid 0.0047 degrees Celsius of warming by the year 2100. In other words, EPA’s regulations will have virtually no impact.

It’s worth pointing out that while EPA found a slight increase from 2013 to 2014, total greenhouse gas emissions have declined 8.6 percent since 2005. EPA even admits in the inventory what just about every other climate and energy organization (including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has found – that the reason for this drop in emissions is the increased use of natural gas in electricity generation:

Recently, a decrease in the carbon intensity of fuels consumed to generate electricity has occurred due to […] increased natural gas consumption and other generation sources. Including all electricity generation modes, electricity generators used natural gas for approximately 27 percent of their total energy requirements in 2014.” (emphasis added)

To conclude, even with EPA’s revisions, the data simply do not show a crisis in methane emissions or a justification for its costly rules that will have virtually no impact on the climate. If EPA’s rules do have a climate impact it will likely be a negative one considering that they will make it so much more difficult to produce the fuel that has been responsible for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

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