A group that promises to bring transparency to the discussion of unconventional natural gas development is dismissing a recent study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute and America’s Natural Gas Alliance.
The study, released June 4, concluded the industry is responsible for half of the methane emissions attributed to it by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency in April issued new rules to limit emissions from hydraulic fracturing, a technique used in most oil and natural gas operations.
The nonprofit Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy on Tuesday called the industry’s study “fatally flawed.” The group issued a statement from Cornell University professors Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth and research technician Renee Santoro.
“The study relies on a critically flawed survey design, completely ignores many other recent studies, and would not have passed peer-review in a scientific journal.”
The scientists contend the industry groups’ study is based on a biased survey, highly selective information and an uncertain approach.
The group praised a recent study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, which they said measured the actual flux of methane from an unconventional gas field. It showed emissions were higher than the EPA’s estimates.
“More such studies are needed, evaluating emissions from both conventional and unconventional gas fields, and the downstream emissions from pipelines and urban distribution systems.”
The group concludes “the best available science” indicates that natural gas has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than any other fossil fuel, so it should not be regarded as a bridge fuel to cleaner alternatives.
Industry advocates have dismissed the group for its ties to the Park Foundation, which helped fund the anti-gas documentary “Gasland” and other attacks on gas development. Ingraffea and Howarth also have been criticized for inaccurate work.
A hydrologist hired by several environmental groups has confirmed a draft report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that links water contamination in Wyoming to hydraulic fracturing, according to the Natural Resources Defend Council.
The EPA report is the result of an investigation that began in spring 2008 after residents of Pavillion, Wyo., complained about smells, tastes and adverse changes in their water quality.
Canada-based Encana Corp., which has been active in the Pavillion area, maintains the water wells in the area have not been adversely impacted by oil and natural gas development. The company noted the U.S. Geological Survey reported poor water quality in Pavillion as far back as the 1880s.
Wyoming officials also objected to the report, claiming EPA’s tests were inadequate, so new tests began last month.
The NRDC report indicates tests by independent hydrologist Tom Myers has confirmed the water contamination was caused by hydraulic fracturing, a process used to unlock oil and natural gas reserves from dense rock. Myers also concluded the EPA investigation was scientifically sound.
“These findings only serve to underscore why we need strong rules on the books that safeguard the American public from drinking water threats from fracking — including closing the Halliburton loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act that allows the oil and gas industry to cut corners and put our water supplies at risk. We look forward to the final EPA report after continued investigation and peer review,” according to NRDC’s staff blog.
The oil and gas industry maintains hydraulic fracturing does not affect groundwater because of the way wells are constructed. Officials also have fought against federal regulation of the process, arguing state oversight is sufficient to protect the environment.
Energy in Depth, an industry-sponsored public outreach campaign, questioned Myers’ findings because of his ties to well known shale industry critic
Al Armendariz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator for the region that includes Oklahoma, has resigned from his post after coming under fire from lawmakers for comments about industry regulation.
Last week, longtime EPA critic and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, made reference to Armendariz’s comments about “crucifying” some companies in the oil and gas industry to make an example out of them for others. Armendariz made the comments in 2010. He apologized for them last week. The Obama White House defended the EPA’s regulatory approach last week but distanced itself from Armendariz’s remarks.
Armendariz said he was resigning so controversy over the comments wouldn’t be a distraction to work at the EPA. The Associated Press has more here.
Meanwhile, here’s the bio page for the acting administrator for Region 6, Sam Coleman.
Last week, President Barack Obama created a federal working group to coordinate efforts to regulate the oil and gas industry, including hydraulic fracturing.
Just a few days later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released new rules to limit air pollution from fracking.
The agency said the move was forced by a court-ordered deadline.
Two environmental groups sued the EPA in 2009 for allegedly failing to review major source air toxics standards for the oil and natural gas industry.
A U.S. district judge in the District of Columbia issued a consent order in the case in February 2010, requiring the EPA to finalize new rules by April 17.
Oral arguments in a court case against the Environmental Protection Agency by several states, utilities and business groups are today in a District of Columbia federal appeals court.
The case, EME Homer City Generation LP v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Case No. 11-1302), challenges the EPA’s right to enforce a rule that would limit pollution from power plants that crosses state lines. The EPA says it has the right to enforce the rule after years of noncompliance by states. The other parties, however, say that the federal Clean Air Act gives states the primary responsibility to enforce clean-air rules.
Among the parties disputing enforcement of the rule were the state of Oklahoma and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, which has more than 500,000 electric customers in the state.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has stayed enforcement of the EPA rule as the case is pending.
Oklahoma is poised to become one of a growing number of states to require energy companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas wells.
State regulators approved disclosure rules last month, but they still must be approved by the Legislature.
Texas began requiring chemical disclosure on Feb. 1, directing producers to FracFocus.org to log the details of their fracturing operations.
Nearly 6,000 Texas wells have been added to the registry created last year by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, but some state residents still are not satisfied, according to Houston Chronicle report.
“The regulation is fine, but it’s not going to do any good. No one will know how to interpret what things go into the frack job one way or another, whether it’s doing any harm or good,” said David Trotter, an oil and gas attorney who is a partner in a 4,500-acre Texas ranch.
The newspaper reports FracFocus shows that drillers employ chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and methanol to help free oil and gas deposits in the shale rock. Chemicals are a small part of the overall mix, which is mostly water and sand.
The online registry includes a section about chemicals are using in hydraulic fracturing.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on Wednesday introduced legislation to ensure states maintain the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing.
The Oklahoma senator’s Fracturing Regulations are Effective in State Hands Act was cosponsored by fellow Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski, David Vitter, Jeff Sessions, John Conryn, James Risch and John Hoeven. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, will introduce companion legislation in the House.
Inhofe touted the bill in a news release Wednesday before taking the Senate floor.
“I am pleased to introduce this bill which will ensure that states have the sole authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, so that the Obama Administration will not be able to impose federal regulations to stop the development of our vast natural resources.”
Inhofe said the administration wants to eliminate hydraulic fracturing, a technique credited with revolutionizing domestic oil and natural gas development, despite the president’s “disingenuous touting of the virtues of natural gas.”
“We know this because he currently has 10 different federal agencies in the process of crafting rules or studying the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, including an EPA that is apparently determined to find fault with the practice so that they can end it.”
The proposal was introduce nearly a year after Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, offered a bill that would regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Clean Water Act.
Casey’s bill has not moved out of committee.
Inhofe on Wednesday defended hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping large amounts of pressurized water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to release oil and gas.
“The first use of hydraulic fracturing took place in my home state of Oklahoma in 1949, and in over 60 years there has not been one confirmed case of ground water contamination from fracked formations.”
Inhofe said his bill will stall President Obama’s “war on affordable energy.”
“It will ensure that under state regulations, Americans can take advantage of the many benefits – including hundreds of thousands of jobs and lower energy prices – that come with the development of our vast natural resources.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new rules for new power plants that would sharply limit the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit for electricity generation.
The rules would not apply to current power plants or plants planned for construction in the next 12 months. They cover only power plants that burn fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. Practically, the proposed rules would apply mostly to new coal power plants, since the EPA said about 95 percent of natural-gas power plants already meet the new standards for emissions.
The new standard for fossil-fuel power plants would be 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Most coal plants currently operate in the
1,600 to 1,800 2,200 range of pounds of CO2/megawatt hour.
Coal powers about 45 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration. Natural gas makes up 24 percent and nuclear provides 20 percent.
In Oklahoma, there are no current plans for new natural gas or coal-fired power plants, so the proposed EPA rules would have little impact right now.
Once the rules are published in the Federal Register, EPA will accept comments on the proposed rules for 60 days. The agency also plans to hold public hearings.
The interview, which lasted more than 20 minutes, is posted below in two parts. Inhofe joked that Maddow, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson are his “three favorite liberals.”
In a segment about energy independence, Inhofe mentioned Harold Hamm, CEO of Enid-based Continental Resources Inc., and the company’s oil production in the Bakken Field in North Dakota. In a discussion about energy industry contributions to lawmakers that included Oklahoma City’s Devon Energy Corp., Inhofe said, “they’re a great group, too.”
The second half of the interview wandered into social issues and Inhofe’s religious work in Africa before circling back to the global warming issue.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given preliminary approval to Colorado’s plan to reduce pollutant emissions that affect visibility at federal wildlife areas.
Oklahoma saw its plan to address regional haze rejected by the EPA last year. The state and its two largest utility companies last month asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal in Denver to review the EPA’s decision.
At first read, the difference between the states’ plans seems to be Colorado’s willingness to retire old coal plants and switch others to natural gas, while Oklahoma had hoped to switch to low-sulfur coal to keep its coal plants in operation for the forseeable future.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said he was pleased with the EPA’s ruling.
“The EPA’s proposal to approve the Regional Haze Plan is a ringing endorsement of a comprehensive and collaborative effort to address this issue. This plan is a major step in the state’s efforts to comply with the federal Regional Haze rule, a congressionally-established air quality goal that seeks to improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas across the country, while also providing public health benefits.”
The EPA’s plan for Oklahoma could lead to unprecedented utility bill increases, but environmental groups like the Sierra Club contend it is an important step in protecting state residents from pollution