Friday, April 20, 2012

Clearing the Air

It has been interesting to watch the reaction to the EPA's new rules on capturing gasses that escape during the completion process for natural gas wells. The industry generally has been quiet about it. I guess they know it's the right thing to do and they got a big win when the rules were delayed a couple of years.  Otherwise, the rule calls for many of the same practices currently mandated in Colorado and Wyoming, so I doubt it will be crippling for the industry.

The big negative reaction is coming from politicians who are moaning and groaning that regulation will kill gas exploration.  That's political hogwash that has more to do with scaring up votes (literally) and fundraising than reality. The natural gas industry would be best served by getting out of the political debate, but unfortunately that ship has sailed.

To me the industry should get behind these rules and implement them quickly (assuming they can stay in business with such low gas prices) because they cover the one area that hydraulic fracturing opponents actually do have a point.  Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is a dangerous greenhouse gas. It is much worse than CO2 but it has a significantly shorter lifespan once released. Studies have pointed out that a certain amount of gas is released at the wellhead and along the transportation chain, which makes natural gas potentially worse for the atmosphere than coal when looking at the full life cycle of the fuel. Industry executives claim they don't want any to escape because it's money in the bank, but I have trouble buying that when they nonchalantly flare gas when they don't have transportation options.

Fix a situation that actually is a problem and move forward. Unfortunately, it takes the EPA to make it mandatory, but I view this as one area where it is right to intervene.  Methane release is the one big hole in the gas industry's argument that drilling is safe.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Robert. Too often we fight the source rather than the substance. If we don't make an effort to clean our air, who will? These regulations won't curtail the production of natural gas--the price of NG has taken the lead on that. When demand catches up with supply, I don't think many will complain about the extra cost to make the air more breathable.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like your justification is "man-made" global warming and that methane is a pollutant because it is a greenhouse gas. The actual latest scientific information according to NASA is that there has been NO warming for ten years. How is that so if CO2 has increased? So, the question is.... is methane a pollutant if global warming off the table? If truely so, then ok. But if not because it is short-lived, then why roll over to this runaway EPA?

Robert Hutchinson said...

The point is that there are air quality problems surrounding gas wells and gas processing facilities. There isn't much debate about this.

The air quality issue is one where the environmentalists and the "haters" have a valid point. It should be addressed - it's not that hard to do - so we can all move on. Some people will never be on board with shale gas (or any fossil fuel for that matter) but when there is a real problem that can be solved, it should be.

The energy world in this country has changed because of shale drilling and one of the new realities is that drilling has encroached upon more populated areas. The reduced emission completion should be industry standard. It's better for air quality and if nothing else it's just plain neighborly. If the industry is going to tout natural gas a the "green" fossil fuel, the industry needs to do everything within its power to make the statement true.

I have my concerns about excessive regulation, but sometimes industry needs to be pushed to do the right thing. It's one of the realities of the United States.