The Smart Path to Reliable Energy and Methane Emissions Reduction
Posted January 30, 2019
Reducing methane emissions from natural gas and oil development is a primary industry mission – underscored at last summer’s World Gas Conference, where speakers from all over the world talked about increased methane capture and reduced emissions.
The reasons are clear. Fundamentally, our industry is in the business of producing and delivering natural gas, of which methane is the main constituent. Capturing as much methane as possible is smart and efficient from a business standpoint.
Equally important, natural gas and oil companies recognize that reducing methane emissions is responsive to the expectations of society, which wants energy to be produced safely and in a way that’s environmentally responsible. Operators are innovating and deploying technologies to achieve those goals. Occidental Petroleum’s Vicki Hollub:
“Occidental employs cutting-edge technologies and processes to contribute to the decline in methane emissions and to achieve exemplary safety and environmental performance. … [The company is committed] to conducting its business in a manner that protects the health and safety of people and the environment at its facilities and in the communities where we operate.”
And Anadarko’s Al Walker:
“Having supported scientific studies, worked with environmental organizations and collaborated with others in industry over the years, we are continuously implementing new technologies, learning and sharing knowledge with the goal of improving our environmental performance.”
Commitments should bear positive results. The good news is that EPA reported methane emissions from natural gas systems were down 16 percent since 1990, even as natural gas output increased more than 50 percent. From an API white paper on methane missions reduction:
In effect, this is a 45 percent reduction in the rate of emissions per unit of production, further demonstrating industry's continued progress in minimizing emissions while maximizing efficiency in getting energy to consumers.
All of these points are important to counter a faulty narrative – that more government regulation is the only way to reduce emissions. This view often faults efforts to craft a regulatory approach that strives for greater efficiency, is achievable and fosters innovation. Such a narrative is contained in a recent Forbes article by the Environmental Defense Fund’s Ben Ratner and Rosalie Winn. They write:
Companies across the value chain with a stake in the future of gas have an incentive to urge continued—and enhanced—nationwide methane regulation that helps industry as a whole improve. (emphasis added)
Again, see the opening paragraphs above to understand the real incentives for industry to capture methane. The notion that more regulation – on top of existing federal and state regulation – is the only way to lower emissions is belied by multiple industry-led initiatives including The Environmental Partnership, whose members have developed field programs to further reduce emissions on their own. From the API white paper (based on EPA data):
Last fall, EPA announced proposed improvements to the 2016 standards on emissions from new natural gas and oil production sources, which the agency said would streamline implementation, reduce regulatory duplication with state requirements and decrease unnecessary burdens on domestic producers. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler called them “common-sense reforms” that would eliminate unnecessary red tape and provide the regulatory certainty industry needs to keep providing safe, affordable energy to American consumers.
Reform that produces regulation that’s more efficient while continuing to effectively address emissions from all of the same sources isn’t a rollback – it’s smart. Howard Feldman, API senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs:
“API supports cost-effective, achievable regulations targeting our mutual objective of reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds that, as a co-benefit , also reduce methane. Industry will continue to develop and employ the most efficient and effective technologies to help these trends continue, while working with academia and state and federal governments to achieve comprehensive, science-based best practices and regulations.”
It's the approach that will work best to ensure supply of reliable, affordable energy for consumers while also reducing emissions.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and five grandchildren.
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