Strengthening EPA Emissions Standards
Posted August 29, 2019
With EPA’s reconsideration of its New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that address volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with natural gas and oil production, some insist the changes will trash environmental protections.
This “rollback” narrative is false and largely designed to play to the extreme environmentalist crowd. Contrary to that view, modifying the NSPS could reduce duplication with state programs, provide greater clarity for industry in its regulatory compliance and, ultimately, further lower methane and other emissions and protect the environment by making it easier for operators to gain approvals for use of new, innovative technologies to detect fugitive emissions for repair. In fact, this procedural correction is best described as a realignment with the agency’s obligations under the Clean Air Act.
The well-worn “rollback” tale also dismisses the effective role of technology, innovation and industry initiative in reducing emissions – such as The Environmental Partnership. It discounts industry’s strong motivation to reduce emissions, which it has done in growing measure amid increased natural gas and oil production.
An API issue brief explains the background of NSPS regulation of VOCs, which has reduced methane emissions as a co-benefit, and industry’s emissions reduction success. The chart below shows the downward trend in emissions from natural gas systems amid rising production:
While natural gas production grew more than 50% from 1990-2017, methane emissions dropped 14%. (Bear in mind that a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study indicates that there has been “major overestimation” of industry’s methane emissions in some previous studies.) We’re seeing this play out in America’s production basins as well. For example, in the Permian, energy production grew 100% from 2011-2017 while methane emissions relative to production fell nearly 40%.
In terms of another greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, remember that increased use of clean natural gas has lowered U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions to their lowest levels in a generation while abundant natural gas has help consumers spend less on energy.
Now, see the pie charts below that natural gas is the leading fuel for U.S. electricity generation – reflecting marketplace decisions to capitalize on that natural gas abundance and its environmental benefits. We also see methane emissions as a relatively small subset of overall greenhouse gas emissions and that the leading source of methane emissions is agriculture:
At the same time, natural gas is the main partner in the buildout and supply of renewable energy, fueling quick and reliable power generation when intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar aren’t available. And petroleum-based products and materials are integral in manufacturing many of the components that go into wind and solar. U.S. natural gas can provide global benefits as well, exported as liquefied natural gas.
Industry is focused on cutting methane emissions by continuing to innovate and by developing new technologies. The Environmental Partnership mentioned above is a collaboration of 66 members, representing 32 of the top 40 U.S. natural gas producers. The Partnership is focused on sharing information, experiences and technologies to keep more and more natural gas in America’s pipelines. We believe that through such industry initiatives and others, technological advances and additional infrastructure, we can keep reducing emissions as well.
The natural gas and oil industry supports the effective regulation of VOCs that, as a co-benefit, also reduces methane emissions and successful industry actions to protect the environment – even as industry continues to supply the energy that powers our economy and supports Americans’ 21st-century standard of living.
Amendments that improve EPA’s NSPS regulation help our country address this dual challenge and are worthy of support.
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.