By February 2, 2016 Read More →

As GHGs plummet, ban-fracking groups and elected officials peddle misinformation

Scientists say natural gas significantly better for climate than coal if methane emissions are kept under 3.2%

In the wake of the Department of the Interior announcing proposed methane regulations on oil and gas production on federal lands, there has been a barrage of activity this week from anti-fracking groups and some elected officials who are taking the opportunity to push out misinformation on methane emissions.


By Katie Brown, PhD., Energy In Depth.

Their full court press is ironic considering that fuel they are trying to stop – natural gas – has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any other government scheme or agreement.  Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that fracking is “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”

The IPCC isn’t alone:  according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), natural gas has prevented more than one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted from power plants in the United States, bringing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to a 27-year low. That’s why the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) recently hailed natural gas as a “valuable component of a gradually decarbonizing electricity and energy system.”

Yet anti-fracking activists continue to deny the science and push talking points that have long been debunked.

Perhaps chief among these groups is Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSEHE), an organization funded by the anti-fracking Park Foundation.  The group put out a report this week, which rehashes the thoroughly debunked claim that “methane emissions from gas production may greatly reduce the real climate benefits” of natural gas. But that’s not surprising considering that the group’s President, Anthony Ingraffea, has become infamous for pushing this tired talking point, and his scholarship has been overwhelmingly criticized by his scientific peers for years.

Another group that joined the fray this week is the Clean Air Task Force, which released a report advocating for an expansion of Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) methane regulations on oil and gas producers to “close the gap” on emissions.  In reality, it’s the Clean Air Task Force that should be “closing the gap” in its research, because it is premised on the incorrect notion that methane emissions from natural gas development will rise dramatically by 2025. In reality, methane emissions have been dramatically declining as natural gas production has skyrocketed.

Finally, a group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to EPA this week also asking the agency to expand its regulations and “propose (111d) standards for existing sources” even though greenhouse gas emissions from exploration and production account for only 1.07 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The facts on methane emissions

Scientists have long noted that natural gas has significant climate benefits as long as methane emissions are kept under 3.2 per cent. Based on the most recent peer-reviewed and some of the best data we have available, it’s clear methane “leaks” from natural gas development are well below that threshold:

Methane 1

Activists and even the EPA have tried to argue that methane emissions from oil and natural gas production will increase by 25 per cent by 2025, but the data simply don’t support that.


In fact, EPA’s own data from its Greenhouse Gas Inventory show that methane emissions from both oil and natural gas production fell 11 per cent – more than 22 million metric tons – between 2005 and 2012, during a time when production soared and 86,000 new wells came online.

EPA’s data also show that methane emissions from natural gas production alone fell 38 per cent since 2005. Over the same period, U.S. natural gas production increased by 26 per cent.


Why target an industry whose emissions are low and continuing to fall – and the reason the U.S. has achieved dramatic reductions in emissions?

It’s interesting that these groups continue to focus so heavily on the oil and gas industry, when oil and gas exploration and production only accounts for a little more than one per cent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, as the below chart shows:


Even if you’re considering the entire oil and natural gas system (which includes activities outside of exploration and production), livestock overtook natural gas systems last year as the largest source of methane emissions in the United States.  That data can be seen in the following chart from EPA’s greenhouse gas inventory: combining the numbers for enteric fermentation (cows) and manure management, agriculture emits 7 percent more methane than the entire oil and natural gas system.


All of this leads to some important questions: Why are these groups targeting an industry whose emissions make up a small part of the puzzle – and are low and continue to fall?  Why aren’t they calling for lower emissions in industries that are emitting much more methane? Why are they trying to stop the one fuel that is responsible for bringing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to a 27 year low?

The bottom line is that if they truly cared about tackling climate change, they would be stanch supporters of natural gas.  Instead, they just push misinformation at every turn.

By Katie Brown, PhD, originally published Jan 29th, 2016 at Energy In Depth.

Posted in: Politics

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