Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 30th 2013 Contents A29
Tuesday, April 30, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
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PITTSBURGH---The US Environmental Pro-
tection Agency has dramatically lowered its
estimate of how much of a potent heat-trap-
ping gas leaks during natural gas production,
in a shift with major implications for a debate
that has divided environmentalists: Does
the recent boom in fracking help or hurt the
fight against climate change?
Oil and gas drilling companies had pushed
for the change, but there have been differing
scientific estimates of the amount of methane
that leaks from wells, pipelines and other
facilities during production and delivery.
Methane is the main component of natural
gas.The new EPA data is "kind of an earth-
quake" in the debate over drilling, said Michael
Shellenberger, the president of the Break-
through Institute, an environmental group
based in Oakland, California. "This is great
news for anybody concerned about the climate
and strong proof that existing technologies
can be deployed to reduce methane leaks."
The scope of the EPA s revision was vast.
In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions,
the agency now says that tighter pollution
controls instituted by the industry resulted
in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million
metric tons of methane emissions from 1990
through 2010, or more than 850 million metric
tons overall. That s about a 20 per cent reduc-
tion from previous estimates. The agency
converts the methane emissions into their
equivalent in carbon dioxide, following stan-
dard scientific practice.
The EPA revisions came even though natural
gas production has grown by nearly 40 per
cent since 1990. The industry has boomed
in recent years, thanks to a stunning expansion
of drilling in previously untapped areas because
of the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking,
which injects sand, water and chemicals to
break apart rock and free the gas inside.
Experts on both sides of the debate say the
leaks can be controlled by fixes such as better
gaskets, maintenance and monitoring. Such
fixes are also thought to be cost-effective,
since the industry ends up with more product
"That is money going up into the air," said
Roger Pielke Jr, a professor of environmental
studies at the University of Colorado, adding
he isn t surprised the EPA s new data show
more widespread use of pollution control
equipment. Pielke noted that the success of
the pollution controls also means that the
industry "probably can go further" in reducing
Representatives of the oil and gas industry
said the EPA revisions show emissions from
the fracking boom can be managed.
"The methane leak claim just got a lot
more difficult for opponents" of natural gas,
noted Steve Everley, with Energy In Depth,
an industry-funded group.
In a separate blog post, Everley predicted
future reductions, too.
"As technologies continue to improve, it s
hard to imagine those methane numbers going
anywhere but down as we eagerly await the
next installment of this EPA report," Everley
One leading environmentalist argued the
EPA revisions don t change the bigger pic-
"We need a dramatic shift off carbon-based
US methane report further divides fracking camps
fuel: coal, oil and also gas," Bill McKibbern, the founder
of 350.org, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
"Natural gas provides at best a kind of fad diet, where
a dangerously overweight patient loses a few pounds
and then their weight stabilises; instead, we need at
this point a crash diet, difficult to do" but needed to
limit the damage from climate change.
The issue of methane leaks has caused a major split
between environmental groups.
Since power plants that burn natural gas emit about
half the amount of the greenhouse gases as coal-fired
power, some say that the gas drilling boom has helped
the US become the only major industrialised country
to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions. But others
believe the methane leaks negate any benefits over coal,
since methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas.
The new EPA figures still show natural gas operations
as the leading source of methane emissions in the US,
at about 145 million metric tons in 2011. The next
biggest source was enteric fermentation, scientific jargon
for belches from cows and other animals, at 137 million
metric tons. Landfills were the third-biggest source, at
103 million metric tons.
But the EPA estimates that all the sources of methane
combined still account for only 9 per cent of greenhouse
gases, even taking into account methane s more potent
The EPA said it is still seeking more data and feedback
on the issue of methane leaks, so the report may change
again in the future. (AP)
Kourtney Hardwick, BP Florida operations manager, looks over a
methane gas well site east of Bayfield, Colo. The well pad now has
three gas wells that have been drilled and are producing natural gas.
A new report from the US Environmental Protection Agency has
dramatically lowered estimates of how much of a potent greenhouse
gas is being leaked by the natural gas industry. AP PHOTO
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