EPA says greenhouse gas releases from wells, pipelines decline

File photo of part of the MarkWest Houston 1, 2, and 3 Complex in Washington County. The plant processes natural gas coming from nearby Marcellus wells.
File photo of part of the MarkWest Houston 1, 2, and 3 Complex in Washington County. The plant processes natural gas coming from nearby Marcellus wells.
| Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, 10:33 p.m.

The U.S. oil and gas sector reduced greenhouse gas emissions from well sites, pipelines and processing facilities last year despite the industry's continued growth, the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

Use of technology and improvements in hydraulic fracturing techniques in natural gas production led the way, accounting for a 73 percent decrease in methane released by that process since 2011, the EPA said.

The industry as a whole reduced methane emissions by 12 percent in two years, even as the number of sources reported to the government grew by 13 percent. Carbon dioxide emissions from the industry increased by 2.5 percent last year, but the methane reduction brought the overall number down by 1 percent.

The methane numbers continue a five-year trend in reductions that the EPA expects to continue with implementation of a 2012 rule requiring “green completions” of wells. Drillers must capture gas stored in flowback — the liquids that return to the surface during drilling and fracking — which prevents its release into the air.

“These data reflect our industry's deep commitment to operational best practices aimed at ensuring that shale is produced safely and in a way that protects our environment,” said Travis Windle, spokesman for the North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition. “We're also squarely focused on continuous technological advancements across all of our operations, including utilizing green completions as well as leak detection practices, to further enhance air quality.”

Environmental groups have pressured the industry to cut emissions from leaky pipelines, flaring at processing facilities and equipment at drill sites.

“Today's newly-released data provide a critical tool in America's effort to reduce climate pollution,” said Peter Zalzal, a staff attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund. “The data show why we need to swiftly deploy meaningful solutions, like EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan, and why it's urgent that we take additional actions to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.”

The 224 million metric tons of emissions from oil and gas systems represent the second-largest source of greenhouse gas, far behind power plants, which increased their emissions to more than 2 billion metric tons last year. The EPA blamed the jump on increased use of coal-fired plants.

The Obama administration and EPA have targeted greenhouse emissions for their effect on climate change, particularly coal-fired plants. A proposal to limit emissions has drawn sharp debate between environmentalists and those worried that forced retirements of coal plants will jeopardize the electric grid.

David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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