Natural Gas, Lower Methane Emissions and Rising Opportunity
Posted August 19, 2019
Even with natural gas playing a leading role in reducing U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to their lowest levels in a generation and strong industry initiative to keep lowering production-related methane emissions, natural gas opponents remain on the attack, including a new study that's critical of natural gas from North American shale (see rebuttals, here and here).
More authoritative and trustworthy than the negative analysis is the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which issued these methane-related conclusions in a study published earlier this year (emphasis added):
- U.S. natural gas production has increased 46 percent since 2006, but there has been no significant increase of total U.S. methane emissions and only a modest increase from natural gas and oil activity.
- There has been a “major overestimation” of industry’s methane emissions in some recent studies. NOAA found emissions from natural gas and oil are up to 10 times lower than has been asserted in some studies.
- Overall, methane in U.S. air samples were shown to be increasing at the same rate as the global background – meaning there was no statistically significant increase in total U.S. methane.
U.S. natural gas has proven environmental and climate benefits, and it’s critically important here at home and around the world, helping to reduce energy poverty and improve peoples’ lives.
Natural gas is the United States’ leading fuel for electricity generation, and it is key to the growth of renewable energies, including wind and solar. Natural gas opponents – like the author of the new study – could relegate U.S. consumers and our economy to a future of less reliable, less affordable energy.
The fact is that while U.S. natural gas production grew more than 50% from 1990-2017, methane emissions dropped 14%.
In major production zones such as the Permian Basin and others, methane emissions relative to total production fell sharply thanks to ever-improving technology and greater efficiency.
Industry initiatives such as The Environmental Partnership are helping galvanize efforts in field operations to capture as much methane as possible through shared learning and collaboration. It’s our business and good for the environment.
While there’s a lot of back-and-forth on natural gas and methane emissions, Americans should be discerning on where they get their facts. The NOAA findings mentioned above stand above those in studies like the new one referenced above, which according to British petroleum geoengineering Professor Quentin Fisher is based on “extremely sensitive to highly questionable assumptions” about the makeup of methane found in shale. Daniel Raimi also comments on Resources.org:
This latest entry into the field ... falls short on a number of fronts. In my view, the conclusion that shale gas is a key driver in the growth in global methane concentrations is not supported by the evidence presented in the paper, which relies on overly simplistic and, in some cases, unsupported assumptions.
For us in industry, we’ll keep working on new technologies and operational procedures to keep reducing methane emissions. Additional pipeline infrastructure will help reduce levels of regulated, limited flaring in the Permian and other basins.
These and other measures will help us meet the dual challenge of protecting the environment and keeping the U.S. well-supplied with the natural gas and oil that powers our economy and modern way of life.
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 six grandchildren.