Hearing to revive natural-gas climate battle

“This overestimate has allowed EPA to justify the promulgation of new air standards for the natural gas industry. More important, we continue to see new policy research being based on a foundation of this bad data — guaranteeing that the wrong conclusions are reached,” he plans to tell the subcommittee holding the hearing.

Click here for more on why he thinks EPA is off the mark.

It’s a wonky battle with much at stake. Natural-gas advocates often point to the climate benefits of the fuel, which is lower-carbon when burned than coal or oil.

But some critics say the climate benefits evaporate when leakage of methane from gas production, storage and delivery is factored into the equation.

The extent of the leakage and its ramifications have been a source of fierce debate.

A recent Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) study, citing EPA’s leak estimates, found that natural-gas powered vehicles won’t help fight climate change unless the leakage is very sharply reduced.

A highly controversial paper by Cornell University researchers last year claimed that natural gas developed through hydraulic fracturing is as bad as coal from a climate standpoint, or worse.

But industry groups and allied analysts have strongly attacked the Cornell findings and criticized EPA's estimates.

In addition, an expert panel that advised the Energy Department on natural gas, in a report last summer, found that the Cornell researchers’ conclusion is “not widely accepted,” but also called for more data on the greenhouse gas impact of the gas development.

Smith, the Devon Energy representative, is calling on EPA to revise its emissions estimates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has formally petitioned EPA to lower the estimates as well.

Smith, in his testimony, will argue that EPA’s estimate of the amount of gas escaping from wells would mean that energy companies are literally allowing millions of dollars to escape into the air.

“Devon became suspicious of EPA’s new estimate because if true, it would mean that Devon alone wastes over 40 million dollars of natural gas to the atmosphere annually. Clearly, a successful company like Devon could not tolerate this level of waste,” his testimony states.

The hearing will also feature Gina McCarthy, EPA’s top air quality regulator, and EDF President Fredd Krupp, among other witnesses.

The recent paper by researchers with EDF — along with professors with Princeton, Duke and the Rochester Institute of Technology — called for better data and efforts to reduce leakage from natural-gas sites.

It basically finds that where electricity is concerned, natural gas is a climate win compared to coal, but not if natural gas is used to power vehicles — a finding that arrives as some policymakers are calling for new incentives to spur greater use of natural gas in heavy trucks and other vehicles.


From the EDF paper:

We find that a shift to compressed natural gas vehicles from gasoline or diesel vehicles leads to greater radiative forcing of the climate for 80 or 280 yr, respectively, before beginning to produce benefits. Compressed natural gas vehicles could produce climate benefits on all time frames if the well-to-wheels CH4 leakage were capped at a level 45–70% below current estimates. By contrast, using natural gas instead of coal for electric power plants can reduce radiative forcing immediately, and reducing CH4 losses from the production and transportation of natural gas would produce even greater benefits. 

More in E2-Wire

Five threats to the EPA’s climate rule

Read more »