EDF President calls for action in wake of new report on natural gas climate concerns

Study finds high levels of methane emissions in Utah oil-and-gas producing basin

August 6, 2013
Contact: 
Lauren Whittenberg, (512) 691-3437, lwhittenberg@edf.org

(New York - August 6, 2013) Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp called for action in response to a new scientific report published this week in the Geophysical Research Letters. The study reported high levels of climate-altering methane emissions observed on one day in Utah’s Uintah Basin, the state’s largest oil and gas producing region. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) led the study, which reported a methane leak rate between 6.2 to 11.7 percent of total production for an area of about 1,000 square miles. Findings are based on aircraft overflights on February 3, 2012 that measured methane in the air and estimated the proportion of those emissions from the oil and gas operations—production, gathering systems, processing and transmission. Measurements were taken over twelve days but due to poor weather conditions, estimates are based on a single day.

“Though the sample size is small, these emissions estimates are alarming,” said Krupp, who served on the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board for natural gas. “Regulators and industry must take immediate steps to address methane emissions in the Uintah Basin, by evaluating industry practices in the region and strengthening regulations to keep up with best available technologies. Reducing methane emissions is a critical issue not only for the industry, but for everyone concerned about climate change.

“Urgency is building. In June President Obama identified methane as a key priority in his Climate Action Plan. Federal and state regulators have an obligation to ensure that strong rules are in place and enforced. This study suggests that methane emissions may be a serious problem in Utah, but we need more data to pinpoint exactly where emissions are coming from and to identify the opportunities are to reduce them. When it comes to methane, we know enough to get started. We can’t afford to wait.”

Specifically, Krupp called for the following measures to be taken:

  • Both federal and state air regulators need to publically account for the current status of regulation and enforcement in the Uintah, and conduct an audit of enforcement practices and procedures, including an assessment of current resources;
  • Utah is to be commended for publishing a list of best practices for oil and gas production, but should be putting leading practices into law;
  • EPA should act immediately to close the loophole for ‘associated gas production,’ require regular maintenance and control technologies on compressors, replacement of high bleed pneumatic controls with low or no-bleed pneumatics, flares or vapor recovery units at condensate tanks, as well as apply leak detection and repair technologies where feasible;
  • EPA should prepare a federal implementation plan (FIP) to address air pollution on Ute tribal lands in the Uintah, using steps taken in the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota as a strong model for progress; and
  • The federal government, as part of a comprehensive methane emissions measurement program, should routinely survey emissions in each producing basin in the United States to measure progress over time.  

The task of reducing methane emissions does not fall on regulators alone. “Industry must step up to the plate when it comes to minimizing methane lost to the atmosphere,” said Krupp. “While there are companies that should be commended for trying to get practices and technologies right, it is in all companies’ best interest to prevent the loss of a natural resource escaping into the atmosphere. The public deserves a full accounting of practices that contributed to methane emissions during the time of this study.”

The study in question, “Methane emissions estimate from airborne measurements over a western United States natural gas field,” was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

# # #

Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.