EPA lowers its estimate of methane gas leaks during natural gas production

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new report relating to greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing. This report dramatically lowers the EPA’s estimate of how much methane gas leaks during natural gas production. Methane is the main component of natural gas. According to the agency, tighter pollution controls resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That is a reduction of about 20% from previous estimates even though natural gas production has grown by nearly 40% since 1990 and remains the leading source of methane emissions in the U.S., at about 145 million metric tons in 2011. The EPA converts the methane emissions into their equivalent in carbon dioxide, following standard scientific practice.

Oil and gas representatives state that this report shows that emissions from hydraulic fracturing can be managed and that leaks can be controlled by fixes, such as gaskets, maintenance and monitoring, which allow for the production and sale of more natural gas. The EPA said that it was seeking more data and feedback on methane leaks and that the report may change in the future. The report, which is based on expert reviews and new data from several sources, including an oil and gas industry-funded report, has been criticized as not being based on independent field tests of actual emissions. Environmentalists believe that the EPA is wrong and that, regardless, the revisions do not change the bigger picture that damage from greenhouse gas emissions, including methane gas, needs to be limited.

The EPA’s report entitled “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emission and Sinks” has international implications because, in mid-April, the report was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


This post was prepared by Barclay Nicholson (bnicholson@fulbright.com or 713 651 3662) from Fulbright's Energy Practice and Heather M. Corken (hcorken@fulbright.com or 713 651 8386) from Fulbright's Environmental Law Practice Group.