Study: Bakken oil field leaks 275,000 tons of methane yearly by James MacPherson, Associated Press, May 11, 2016
… The data, collected in two years ago by an airplane over the heart of western North Dakota’s oil patch, was the first field study of methane emissions done in the Bakken shale formation that spans western North Dakota and eastern Montana, said Jeff Peischl, the study’s lead author from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
… And the data show the amount of methane leaking from the Bakken is similar to the emission rate from the oil-rich Denver-Julesburg Basin in Colorado, Peischl said.
Researchers said using low-flying aircraft, like the one the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flew over the oil field in May 2014, improves accuracy of emission collection data.
A separate study released last month showed that the Bakken leaks about 250,000 tons of ethane annually, and enough to be detected by monitors in Europe. Ethane also is a significant component of natural gas, a valuable byproduct of oil production in the Bakken. Drillers currently burn off, or flare, more than 10 percent of the gas because development of pipelines and processing facilities to capture it hasn’t kept pace with oil drilling.
At least 95 percent of methane and ethane emissions are burned by flaring, said Dave Glatt, chief of North Dakota Department of Health’s environmental health section. Glatt said the state been using infrared cameras since last summer to detect emissions coming from oil operations.
Methane can be emitted by natural sources such as wetlands, or by other industries such as cattle feedlots, but researchers said almost all methane detected in the study was attributed to oil and gas operations.
EPA’s Methane Rule is welcome, but NOT a license to grow gas production by Lorne Stockman, May 12, 2016, Oil Change International
… But a statement from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in the New York Times today highlighted the danger of these important actions being used to justify the unsustainable growth in natural gas production that the industry is planning. McCarthy told the Times, “These new actions will protect public health and reduce pollution linked to cancer and other serious health effects while allowing industry to continue to grow…“.
Those health benefits are really important and relate to the VOCs in the rule. But when it comes to methane or VOCs, it is the production growth that we are going to really need to address if we’re going to reduce emissions.
There seems to be a perception in the Obama administration that the forecast 34% growth in U.S. gas production will be all fine if methane leakage is cut by 45%. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t add up. Here’s why this doesn’t work, particularly for the climate.
The administration has committed the United States to playing its role in keeping global warming from surpassing the dangerous 2 degree Celsius level and pursuing 1.5 C. This commitment is enshrined in the Paris Agreement signed by the US and 174 other countries last month. The administration is working on a roadmap to achieve that but has already committed to cutting emissions 83% from 2005 levels by 2050.
So emissions have to go down dramatically, no two ways about it.
Average methane leakage in the US natural gas system has been estimated at around 3.8% of production. Based on 2015 figures that means that of the 27.15 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas produced that year just over 1 TCF leaked out, playing havoc with our climate (natural gas is almost pure methane and as a greenhouse gas methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2)).
If EIA forecasts are right (a big if but let’s not get distracted), by 2040 the US will produce 36.4 TCF. At currents rates that would mean almost 1.4 TCF of leaked methane. But if the EPA rule is successful, that could be cut 45% to 0.9 TCF, only about 10% less than today’s level.
Anyway you cut it growing natural gas production over the next decades is a disaster for the climate. Even at zero methane leakage the emissions from burning all that natural gas are around 2 billion metric tons. That would mean natural gas accounting for pretty much all allowable US emissions in 2040, possibly more.
The administration is making great progress on climate and the regulation of methane is an important and long overdue step. But the administration must realize that slowing the production of fossil fuels is essential to achieve climate goals, and natural gas cannot get a free pass. Methane leaks or no methane leaks. [Emphasis added]
Obama administration announces historic new regulations for methane emissions from oil and gas by Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis, May 12, 2016, The Washington Post
This story has been updated.
The Obama administration on Thursday announced a set of much-anticipated — and first ever — steps to regulate oil and gas industry emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas second only to carbon dioxide in its role in the climate debate.
The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new rule that will target emissions from new or modified oil and gas wells — and prevent 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by the year 2025, the agency said.
And while this would not apply to the vast numbers of existing rigs, well pads and auxiliary equipment that have driven a historic boom in domestic oil and gas production, the agency also signaled that it plans to regulate these as well. It issued a new request for more information from industry to help study how to contain emissions from these sources.
It all adds up to a suite of new or planned regulations, by the outgoing administration, to curb fugitive emissions of a gas that is drawing ever-more attention, despite debate over precisely how much the United States is emitting and how severely that contributes to climate change.
The new policies “will help combat climate change and reduce air pollution that immediately harms public health,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said on a media call Thursday.
“Every leak that is fixed means more gas is available to be used or sold and less pollution is affecting the health of our communities, as well as the stability of our climate,” McCarthy continued.
The regulations’ focus on new industrial equipment is significant, given the expansion expected to happen in coming years, particularly in the natural gas sector. But even more momentous would be for EPA to regulate existing equipment, which could have a far larger impact — on both emissions and on the industry itself.
The request for information in this area is “really launching our work to address methane emissions from existing sources,” McCarthy said, although it appeared that due to agency timelines, the administration would not be able to complete these rules before the end of the Obama administration.
Environmental advocacy groups seemed largely pleased with Thursday’s announced rule for new and modified emissions sources, even as they pushed for more aggressive steps down the line.
“This is the first time that EPA has ever regulated methane from any industry. And how appropriate, because this [industry] is the largest emitter of methane,” said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group. …
The announcement comes shortly after the EPA charged that methane emissions…are on the upswing of late, during the same time period when voluminous U.S. shale oil and gas drilling has dramatically driven down prices for domestic natural gas and global oil alike.
The agency recently revised upward its estimates of total U.S. methane emissions — which emerge from multiple sources, not just oil and gas — from 636.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to 721.5 million metric tons for the year 2013. The revision meant that oil and gas drilling, rather than agriculture and livestock, became the largest single source of U.S. methane emissions — further upping the stakes for regulatory action.
The industry has opposed both forms of methane emissions regulation — for new and existing sources — arguing that self-policing has been quite effective thus far.
“It doesn’t make sense that the administration would add unreasonable and burdensome regulations when the industry is already leading the way on methane reductions,” said Kyle Isakower, API’s vice president of regulatory and economic policy, in a call with reporters Thursday. “The last thing we need is more duplicative and costly regulation” that could stifle innovation and potentially lead to higher energy costs. [Can’t industry be more creative with their lies and threats?]
The group’s leaders also questioned EPA’s estimates of what the new regulations would cost the industry, and said that by imposing a “one-size-fits-all” approach to regulating methane emissions, the EPA would saddle companies with new monitoring and record-keeping responsibilities, when companies already have good reason to find inventive ways of avoiding leaks.
“Methane is the product that we sell. We are incentivized already to prevent methane emissions,” said Howard Feldman, API’s senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs. [Ah, but, companies don’t have to pay for resources they leak or vent out, no incentive whatsoever – that’s one of the biggest parts of the pollution problem]
The timing for new regulation is also pretty inconvenient from an industry perspective. “The industry is being asked to do more with less as oil and gas prices are low, rig counts have dwindled, and thousands have lost their jobs,” noted Sandra Snyder, an attorney with Bracewell LLP, which has a number of oil and gas industry clients, in a statement. [Pass the tissue, hurry.]
The originally proposed regulations for new sources of emissions emerged last summer and were aimed at cutting down on leaks of gas from storage tanks and pipelines. “The final rule represents a significant improvement over the proposal” last year, Schneider said. For instance, the agency ended up requiring more regular inspections than it might have, and did not completely exempt low-producing wells.
Schneider and other activists dismissed complaints that the new rules would be too onerous or costly for the industry. “This pollutant, methane, is also energy. [Preventing leaks] will actually save the industry money,” he argued. “Many of these measures will pay for themselves in a few years.”
… The Obama administration has signaled plans to sharply cut industrial methane emissions, seeking reductions as high as 45 percent below 2012 levels by the year 2025.
In another piece of this agenda, the Interior Department earlier this year took separate steps to curb methane leaks when energy companies drill on public lands or lands owned by Native American tribes. This would cover about 10 percent of natural gas wells.
That rule, and the one announced Thursday, go part of the way toward controlling methane, but the biggest question now becomes how the Obama administration proceeds on existing emissions sources and, with little time left in office, whether the steps it takes in this area will be carried forward by the next presidential administration.
“I think what we can expect is that the Obama administration is going to be working on this issue until the very day they leave office,” Brownstein says. [And, how many lawsuits will be filed by energy lobby groups and companies to kill any regulation of the polluting methane leaks?]
Obama’s new oil & gas air pollution rule is a step forward for climate & communities Press Release by Earthworks, May 12, 2016
Statement of Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel on the publication of the final EPA rule governing methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas facilities
Today, the Obama administration finalized the first national standard to cut methane pollution from new and modified sources of oil and gas production. The rule will also cut associated pollution emitted with methane: volatile organic compounds like benzene, a carcinogen.
With an infrared camera that makes visible this normally invisible pollution, Earthworks has documented more than 200 releases across the United States. And we detect this pollution at the vast majority of sites we visit. In response to the new rule, Earthworks’ Policy Director Lauren Pagel said:
“The Obama administration’s new national standard to cut methane pollution from oil and gas facilities is an important step to protect our climate and the health of nearby communities.
But even more important is the Obama administration’s April announcement that they will begin the process to cut pollution at the million-plus existing oil and gas operations. Only then will communities now harmed by this pollution finally get some relief.
It’s essential to remember that no matter how stringent our methane pollution controls, burning fossil fuels pollutes the climate. That’s why there’s no substitute for replacing fossil fuels as quickly as possible with truly clean energy alternatives like renewables and conservation.”
For more information:
- EPA: Addressing greenhouse gases and smog forming VOCs from the oil and gas industry
- Map of 200+ infrared videos of the type of pollution that will be governed by this rule
- One video example from Mansfield, TX
Can Justin Trudeau See the Forest Fire for the Trees? Canada’s photogenic prime minister promises a new type of enlightened, environment-friendly leadership. But he’s still hooked on dirty oil by Andrew Nikiforuk, May 11, 2016, Foreign Policy
The horrific wildfire that is consuming large swaths of Fort McMurray, Alberta, has already broken Canadian records for calamities fueled by climate change. The fire surpassed the economic damage wrought by Quebec’s multibillion-dollar ice storm in 1998 and even southern Alberta’s biblical $2 billion deluge in 2013. The boreal inferno, which mushroomed exponentially like some airborne virus, not only forced the perilous evacuation of 80,000 Canadians from the corporate mining outpost, but also consumed nearly 2,400 buildings. Twitchy bankers and nervous insurers now peg the unprecedented firestorm as Canada’s costliest natural disaster.
It is no accident that the fire sprang up amid Canada’s climate change debate in one of the nation’s most disturbed northern landscapes. All around Fort McMurray, pipelines, roads, seismic lines, and mining pits occupy huge chunks of the forest like an industrial octopus. Humans most likely started the blaze, but climate change helped propel the flames into a storm that made its own lightning and has left behind an estimated $10 billion in damage.
The unfolding horror show caught the young government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an interesting juncture. Unlike his predecessor, Stephen Harper — an ideologue who championed pipelines, muzzled climate change scientists, and attacked environmentalists with malice — Trudeau has changed the tone. He ended the censorship of scientists and personally played a prominent role at the recent Paris COP21 conference on climate change. But he has not yet departed from Harper’s “drill, baby, drill” national narrative. He now promotes oil-export pipelines and wind farms in the same sentence — a sort of political schizophrenia. Contrary to overwhelming scientific evidence, Trudeau acts as though sunny rhetoric on curbing emissions will somehow win more markets for what has become an uneconomic crude. At current oil prices, most oil sand miners are bleeding cash.
Even Trudeau’s response to the climate-inspired disaster was somewhat oily, though sadly demonstrative of the business-as-usual attitude that afflicts even Ottawa’s best and brightest. On May 4, he abruptly criticized Green Party leader Elizabeth May for spelling out the obvious: that the fiery consumption of Fort McMurray and the global climate crisis are linked. “Any time we try to make a political argument on one particular disaster, I think it’s a bit of shortcut that can sometimes not have the desired outcome,” Trudeau countered. “There have always been fires.”
But that’s not true in a world destabilized by an increasingly human-engineered atmosphere.
For more than a decade now, Canada’s federal foresters and climate change experts have documented a plethora of bad trends.
For more than a decade now, Canada’s federal foresters and climate change experts have documented a plethora of bad trends. Warming temperatures have not only increased the area burned by wildfire, but also extended the length of the fire season. Thanks to climate change, patterns of natural forest renewal by fire have been thrown off-kilter. The more frequent and more disastrous blazes have also bankrupted provincial fire-fighting budgets.
Canada is home to a third of the world’s great boreal forest. It supplies Canadians with $700 billion worth of life-supporting services each year and remains one of the world’s important climate and water regulators. Yet the hotter and drier it gets, the more easily it will succumb to fire, disease, and insects. As early as 2003, Canadian forestry experts made the inconvenient prediction that “it is unlikely that there will be sufficient resources to respond to increasing fire.” This, of course, all came to pass in the ashes of Fort McMurray.
Anyone who doesn’t work in oil sands (a low-grade heavy oil that even the Koch brothers call “garbage” crude) grasped the disaster’s smoky irony. The fire consumed sections of the business center of this dirty industry. Bitumen, a tarry mess trapped in oil sands, has one of the highest carbon footprints of any hydrocarbon on the planet and is more impure than Mexican or Venezuelan sour crudes. As a consequence, the energy required to extract and upgrade 2.4 million barrels a day of oil sands has made the energy megaproject Canada’s single largest source of greenhouse gases.
Thanks to unchecked growth and the lack of a national carbon plan, forest-drying emissions from the nation’s oil and gas sector recently surpassed those of Canada’s immense transportation sector. Moreover, despite historically low oil prices, the industry now wants to double production, which would worsen emission trends. As a consequence, the oil sands and their climate-denying supporters have become an almost unmovable boulder on the road to constraining national carbon emissions. The project’s scale also explains why federal promises, made in 2006 to reduce Canadian emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and 65 percent by 2050, have all come to naught. “There is no way Canada can come close to meeting its greenhouse gas targets by expanding bitumen production,” says David Schindler, one of Canada’s top scientists. Simply put, there’s no way Trudeau can make a dent in climate change without limiting — and then shrinking — Canada’s chief carbon-maker.
Canada’s fading oil sands boom is a cautionary tale on the madness of crowds and the greed of politicians. By rushing development to take advantage of high oil prices, the industry and complicit government regulators exaggerated benefits, ignored carbon risks, lowered taxes, and saved hardly a dime. In the process, the oil sands made Canada the world’s fifth-largest oil producer and the supplier of nearly half of U.S. oil imports. But the perils of rapid development, including a volatile petrodollar and a wounded manufacturing sector, are now raining down on the country like glowing embers pelted convoys of vehicles fleeing Fort McMurray.
In a strange twist of fate, the firestorm gives the federal government and Canada’s political class a chance to revisit the project’s failing economics and carbon liabilities. The collapse of global oil prices last year ignited a highly predictable market firestorm. The high-cost oil sands industry quickly dumped 40,000 workers in Canada and scaled back investments by tens of billions of dollars. The downturn also illustrated the marginal character of an ugly resource. Extracting oil sands not only costs more than other hydrocarbons; it also sells at a fraction of the price of West Texas crude due to its poor quality. Jeff Rubin, the former top economist at one of Canada’s biggest banks, recently noted that bitumen still “trades at anywhere from a 25 to more than 50 percent discount to world oil prices, rendering it the cheapest-priced oil in the world, with one of the highest production costs.” That sort of fragility makes Canada’s heavy product highly vulnerable to oil price volatility, as well as carbon pricing.
The fire did what no politician has yet contemplated: It temporarily shut in a million barrels of oil sands production due to worker shortages and safety concerns. Rubin and other analysts have duly noted that large production increases from U.S. shale deposits and Canada’s oil sands are largely responsible for the global supply glut.
A sober government might note that new proposed pipelines would make the glut worse and possibly drive prices down further.
The solution? Chart a course toward curtailing production by a million barrels a day with effective carbon pricing. It’s either that or politicians drunk on the illusions of oil wealth could wait for a carbon-constrained world to exact more punishing terms later.
That’s the blunt choice facing the Trudeau government: It can act now to save Canada’s endangered northern forests and honor the country’s commitment to a green future, or it can support a doomed and ruinous crude. It can’t do both.
Any clear-eyed observer would realize that high-cost, high-carbon oil sands extraction must shrink over time. Canada gambled on a resource boom that has fizzled and overproduced a high-risk “garbage” crude. Carbon pricing and climate change — opportunities and risks, respectively, the country collectively denied — point to only one rational destiny for the oil sands: contraction. And so, now Trudeau must act unconventionally, boldly pushing his oil-exporting nation to lead the charge against climate disruption. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to: