EDF Analysis Finds Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Methane Emissions are Double Previous Estimate

Million-ton methane problem demands strong action on existing pollution sources

May 13, 2020
Elaine Labalme, 412-996-4112, elaine.labalme@gmail.com

(Harrisburg, Pa.) An updated analysis of Pennsylvania oil and gas methane emissions has found that industry’s methane pollution is estimated to be double what Environmental Defense Fund documented just two years ago.

EDF researchers found that oil and gas operators emit upwards of 1.1 million short tons of methane annually. This is more than 15 times higher than what oil and gas companies reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“The fact that natural gas operators are emitting well over a million tons of methane pollution each year into the air Pennsylvanians breathe is unacceptable,” said Dan Grossman, senior director of state advocacy at EDF. “The staggering scale of the methane problem in Pennsylvania makes Gov. Wolf’s proposal to reduce emissions from existing oil and gas operations all the more critical.”

Pennsylvania DEP announced at a recent Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee that its draft existing source methane rule would be published in mid-to-late spring, kicking off a 60-day public comment period.

“Gov. Tom Wolf and the DEP are to be commended for advancing a methane rule that addresses emissions from the state’s tens of thousands of existing oil and gas wells,” said Grossman. “It’s essential that the state adopt a strong final rule that protects public health and delivers on the governor’s promise to tackle climate change.”

EDF’s Pennsylvania Methane Data Project is based on 2017 production data and emission modeling from a 2018 Science study, which draws on six years of peer-reviewed research conducted by EDF and over 140 research and industry experts from 40 institutions and 50 companies. The analysis also projects emissions through 2030 using Pennsylvania-specific production projections from Rystad Energy.

Updated emission figures are double EDF’s analysis of 2015 data for three primary reasons: production levels in 2017 were notably higher than two years prior (an upward trend that has carried into 2020); use of additional state-specific data provides a more accurate picture of wells in the state and emission sources; and the 2018 Science study provides the best available scientific methods which demonstrate higher levels of emissions per well.

“Tapping into the latest scientific research and best available data has allowed us to more accurately discern the state’s oil and gas methane emissions in a way that best reflects conditions on the ground,” said Hillary Hull, senior manager, research and analytics, EDF.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, human-made emissions of which account for a quarter of the global warming we are currently experiencing. Climate change can contribute to extreme weather events from floods to longer and hotter summers, which exacerbate air pollution and ozone problems, along with the risk of vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Pennsylvania has the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the nation.

Methane is also the primary component of natural gas. The 1.1 million short tons of methane emitted in Pennsylvania equates to 57 billion cubic feet of natural gas that could otherwise be brought to market.

In addition to methane, oil and gas operations were found to emit over 63,000 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds. Smog and ozone pollution cause heart disease and worsen respiratory diseases, such as asthma and emphysema. The Centers for Disease Control has found that individuals living with those conditions are more at risk for severe illness from other infections, such as COVID-19.

The data project includes updated statewide and county emission estimates for methane and volatile organic compounds, as well as tools for regulators and policymakers to measure the effectiveness of various emission reduction scenarios.

Media assets related to the project are available here.

To view EDF’s updated Pennsylvania Methane Data Project, visit:


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