By Dean Scott
--The Environmental Protection Agency has been meeting with other agencies in
recent months to find ways to cut methane emissions, including actions they
could take using existing regulatory authority, an EPA official told a Senate
subcommittee Nov. 5.
President Barack Obama's June climate plan
established the interagency panel to address methane, according to Sarah
Dunham, director of the EPA's Office of Atmospheric Programs. Methane is a
potent greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas.
accounts for just 9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but it has
28 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, Dunham told the Senate
Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight. But those emissions are
projected to rise in the coming decades, she said.
panel, which draws from the EPA as well as the departments of Agriculture,
Energy, Interior, Labor, and Transportation, has been overshadowed by Obama's
decision under his climate plan to direct EPA to finalize power plant
greenhouse gas limits .
But the methane group has a broad mandate to
develop what Dunham called a “comprehensive interagency methane strategy” to
cut those emissions, which have declined 8 percent since 1990 but are projected
to climb between 3 percent and 9 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels.
EPA is currently working with other agencies to assess emissions data, address
data gaps and identify opportunities to further reduce methane emissions
through incentive-based programs and existing authorities,” Dunham told the
subcommittee. She did not provide a date for when the interagency panel could
complete its review.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who chairs the subcommittee, held the
hearing to focus on what he called “fugitive methane emissions” such as those
flared from natural gas sites or lost during hydraulic fracturing, a process
used in natural gas extraction.
Whitehouse said about one-third of U.S.
fugitive methane emissions are produced from petroleum and natural gas
But Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the subcommittee's top
Republican, said EPA has continued to overstate the amount of methane lost to
the atmosphere from such operations. Inhofe has questioned the EPA's estimates
as it has moved to regulate hydraulic fracturing operations, including the
first air pollution standards for fracking operations, which it finalized in
April 2012 .
credited the agency for making some changes to its formula for estimating
methane emissions, but he said the focus on fracturing operations and their
greenhouse gas emissions has contributed to “alarm” about the industry that is
undeserved. The natural gas industry has “every incentive” to reduce such
emissions, he said.
“Methane is natural gas, and when a company is in
the business of extracting natural gas from the earth, their shareholders
rightly demand that they do this without letting millions of dollars of their
product vent into the atmosphere,” Inhofe said.
The EPA has estimated
that the industry is losing less than 2 percent of its total gas to the
atmosphere, most of that from natural gas operations and a relatively small
contribution from liquid petroleum operations. But other studies have offered a
range of estimates of the U.S. methane leak rate of between 0.71 percent to 7.9
representatives have touted the boom in U.S. natural gas production as a tool
for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions because natural gas, when burned for
power production, releases roughly half the carbon dioxide emissions of
Darren Smith, environmental policy manager for Devon Energy Corp.,
said the company continues to challenge what he termed EPA's “gross
overestimates” of methane emissions, pointing to more conservative estimates
produced in a September study by the University of Texas and the Environmental
Defense Fund. The study estimated that 0.42 percent of U.S. natural gas is
released into the atmosphere .
Dunham, the EPA official, said the agency
continues to work to improve measurement methodologies and emissions estimates
and noted that there “have been several recent studies and analyses that help”
to improve their accuracy.
To contact the reporter on this
story: Dean Scott in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at email@example.com