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Emissions from HF ‘At Least 53 Percent Lower’ than EPA Estimates

An updated study just released by URS Corporation shows that actual methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells are substantially lower than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has claimed. The data reinforce the fact that natural gas development, including the use of hydraulic fracturing, is occurring safely and responsibly across the country.

According to the study, which was prepared for ANGA and API, methane emissions are “53 percent lower than EPA’s estimates,” based on a review of 91,000 wells nationwide. A fact sheet summarizes the findings, which include:

  • Methane vented during liquids unloading is 93 percent lower than EPA’s estimates;
  • Emissions from re-fracturing a well are 72 percent lower than EPA’s estimates; and
  • EPA’s estimate for the rate of well re-fracturing is as much as 14 times larger than what real-world data show.

Interestingly, EPA’s inflated data comes from a data set that represents only a fraction of what was collected in this latest study. In fact, URS sampled more than ten times as many wells as EPA, making this the “most comprehensive look to date” at methane emissions resulting from hydraulic fracturing.

The URS data is an update to a previous study, which also found emission rates considerably lower than EPA’s estimates.

Equally important, this latest data set casts even further doubt on studies like the infamous Cornell paper, which suggested shale development had a bigger climate impact than coal and for which the authors claimed that EPA’s methane data served as a basis. Other studies, including one from NOAA released earlier this year that Michael Levi has since debunked, have similarly claimed inflated methane emissions resulting from natural gas systems, including hydraulic fracturing.

The Environmental Defense Fund earlier this year identified some concerns with EPA’s assessment of methane emissions, noting that EPA’s estimate “is double the prior estimate, which was itself twice as high as the previously accepted amount.” The latest research from URS — which, again, relied on the largest data set to date — appears to reinforce the fact that EPA’s data suffer from considerable flaws, not the least of which is their limited scope.

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing have tried relentlessly to paint natural gas development from shale as something that will accelerate climate change, chiefly by suggesting high methane emissions will minimize or even cancel out any perceived environmental benefits. But the findings from this latest study add to the growing list of reports and data showing the climate benefits of natural gas.

Earlier this year, the EIA reported that CO2 emissions are at their lowest level since 1992, an achievement that was made possible largely through the increased utilization of natural gas. The International Energy Agency reported this past summer that the United States led the world in cutting greenhouse gas emissions since 2006 thanks in part to natural gas, especially from shale.

And as John Hanger, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, so aptly stated in July, “the shale gas revolution, and the low-priced gas that it has made a reality, is the key driver of falling carbon emissions, especially in the last 12 months.”

As regulators and policymakers debate the merits of regulations on natural gas development, such discussions should rely on sound science, as well as the most current and comprehensive data available. In terms of methane emissions, this latest research from URS should arguably serve as the basis for such considerations, if not completely put to rest the alarmist claims made by opponents.

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