Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, is furious that the EPA regulations on fracking have actually reduced methane emissions. He thinks the rules should be rolled back because they worked. Vitter blasted the EPA for “overreach” citing a study that shows that methane emissions from fracking wells are lower. They are lower because of the regulations.
Vitter’s logic seems flawed. Blasting the EPA for overreach because emissions actually went down is the same as saying we should eliminate water pollution laws because the Cuyahoga River isn’t catching fire.
Vitter is a major apologist for the oil and gas industry, and he rakes in the campaign contributions as a result.
The Republican Senator cites a study that shows that fracking emissions are lower than expected. However, he quotes only the parts of the study that support his gas and oil narrative. The conclusion of the study was that the EPA should broaden those regulations. He must have been interrupted by a phone call when he got to that part of the study.
The University of Texas at Austin released the first of 16 scientific evaluations of methane emissions from all parts of the natural gas supply chain. The initial peer-reviewed study coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund focused on production from shale gas wells.
The study found that emissions measurements during “well completion” — the process that takes place after the well is drilled and fractured, when fracking fluids and sands are drawn back up the well to make way for gas production — were 97 percent lower than previously estimated because many drillers used best practices as required by the new EPA rule, which comes into full force in January 2015.
Emissions from pneumatic valves, which control routine operations at the well pad, are higher than EPA estimates, however. Fugitive emissions, which are gas leaks from equipment at the production site, are also much higher than EPA estimated.
The discrepancy between emissions in the “well completion” phase and the others can be attributed to the “green completion” technology used at the majority of the wells in the study. This technology is only being used by gas companies because the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards requires all natural gas producers to use it beginning in January 2015. Many producers have already installed that equipment and adopted those procedures in advance of that deadline brought down emissions substantially.
This first EDF-coordinated study demonstrates the effectiveness of the EPA’s rules. That’s why the EPA needs to expand these standards. Green completion technology should be required for not just gas development, but also for shale-gas wells and combined oil-and-gas wells, which aren’t currently covered by the rules.
Vitter is blasting the success to prevent the EPA from requiring technology be used to reduce emissions from pneumatic valves. He is also afraid the EPA may require natural gas producers to engage in regular and effective leak detection and repair programs.
Another recent study found that as much of 9% of a ll methane gas coming from fracking wells in Colorado and Wyoming leaks at the well head. This is not only a waste of energy, but the methane is worse for the environment than the emissions from natural gas when burned. This leaking methane is destroying all the advantages of natural gas over coal when it comes to green house gas emissions.
Hopefully the EPA will own its success and expand the rules to clean up methane leaks so that the risks from fracking might be offset by reduced carbon emissions from well to smoke stack. Right now, it is at best, a wash.