Methane: A Poster Child For Voluntary Progress

March 2015, Vol. 242, No. 3

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calls our nation’s natural gas abundance “a game-changer in our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions.” She’s right. Expanding natural gas use for power generation is the primary reason the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any other country over the past eight years and driven sulfur dioxide and smog-forming NOx emissions down by more than two-thirds over the past two decades.

Some have expressed concern that increasing use of natural gas could drive up methane emissions. But here, too, the news is good. From 2006 (before the shale revolution) to 2012, industry has added thousands of natural gas wells, production has increased by 26%, yet methane emissions from natural gas production are down nearly 40%. Leading the charge? Hydraulically fractured natural gas wells, which EPA data shows has reduced their methane emissions by 73% from 2011 to 2013. All of these reductions were accomplished under existing federal air emission regulations.

What about pipelines? Here, too, emissions have been reduced even as we invest more in this vital infrastructure. To keep pace with the opportunities presented by shale abundance, our nation has added nearly 12,000 miles of long-haul transmission pipelines and 600,000 miles of new local distribution pipelines since 1990 – all while reducing related methane leaks by 12% and 22%, respectively.

There’s no question we will see these kinds of dramatic decreases continue. Industry has every incentive to capture the methane. After all, it’s the product we sell. As a result of our innovation, methane from natural gas systems now accounts for just 2% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

In just one example of how industry-led efforts have delivered this progress, a majority of U.S. natural gas wells now use green completion technologies. Researchers at the University of Texas have observed 99% reductions in methane emissions during the well-completion process thanks to these technologies. EPA’s new rules requiring green completions at all new wells starting in 2015 come on the heels of this industry-led progress.

The White House has acknowledged that voluntary programs hold the potential for significant reductions in a timely and cost-effective manner. We couldn’t agree more, and believe natural gas producers are the poster child for a collaborative effort with federal regulators to ensure continued progress. We have demonstrated our ability to significantly reduce methane emissions, and will make further reductions through innovation.

So we were disappointed when the White House announced plans to initiate a new rule-making that would regulate methane emissions from natural gas producers under the Clean Air Act. Rather than pursue collaborative efforts to continue our dramatic emission reductions, efforts that could begin today, they’ve instead chosen a more contentious path that is certain to take years before we even have an unnecessary rule in place.

As EPA proceeds with its rule-making, a thorough and dispassionate examination of the facts can lead to only one conclusion: It’s time for the administration to take yes for an answer. Natural gas producers have an exemplary record of reducing methane emissions under existing rules. If our shared goal is to continue such progress, let’s choose collaboration to realize the game-changing benefits Administrator McCarthy acknowledges to clean our air, while our nation’s shale energy abundance grows our economy and strengthens our energy security.

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