Appalachian Basin

Methane Emissions in PA Continue to Drop As Natural Gas Production Increases

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf held a Town Hall meeting on social media this week to discuss air emissions, climate change and a new proposed set of regulations targeted at the methane emissions from the natural gas industry. But what wasn’t really discussed is how voluntary best management practices across the Marcellus Shale have already led to a substantial drop in methane emissions in the Commonwealth. Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer explained this to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

These positive results are a function of the industry’s widespread use of operational best practices and continuous investments aimed at protecting and enhancing our environment. We welcome Gov. Wolf’s efforts to expand new manufacturing opportunities in the commonwealth through affordable homegrown natural gas and are committed to working with lawmakers as well as state officials to focus on common-sense policies that encourage job-creating natural gas development.”

In fact, the latest Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) air emissions inventory, which included data from 2013 and was released in April 2015, showed that methane emissions were down 13 percent since 2012 — all while natural gas production increased.

Further, in May 2015 researchers at Drexel University released a study that low levels of air emissions at well sites across the Marcellus Shale. From that study:

“Most notably, we did not observe elevated levels of any of the light aromatic compounds (benzene, toluene, etc.) that have previously been observed in oil and NG operations. With the exception of CH43OH, which was observed at one compressor station and has been observed at NG well pads, all of the other VOCs detected have been attributed to on-road engine exhaust.” (Page E; emphasis added)

The study also explains:

“Additionally we have shown that in contrast to other unconventional NG resources there are few emissions of nonalkane VOCs (as measured by PTR-MS) from Marcellus Shale development.” (Page H; emphasis added)

The trend of emissions reductions has continued to improve each year, as the 2012 inventory showed. For that inventory, DEP also highlighted that the total emissions reductions, which have not only decreased during production, but additionally because of the increased use of natural gas in electricity generation, represented “between $14 billion and $37 billion of annual public health benefits.” Then DEP Secretary, Chris Abruzzo, went on to say:

“It is important to note that across-the-board emission reductions … can be attributed to the steady rise in the production and development of natural gas, the greater use of natural gas, lower allowable emissions limits, installation of control technology and the deactivation of certain sources.” (emphasis added)

Most notably, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Greenhouse Gas Inventory  in April 2015, which showed a dramatic decline in methane emissions across the country from natural gas production in recent years. According to the EPA, methane emissions from natural gas production have fallen 38 percent since 2005 at the same time that U.S. natural gas production increased by 26 percent.

Further it’s precisely because of our production of natural gas that Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions have also plummeted. As DEP Secretary, John Quigley, noted during the Town Hall:

“And again, natural gas is one of the most important reasons why Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 20 percent since 2007.” (23:03)

And the EPA’s October inventory showed a 13 percent decrease in emissions from 2011 to 2014 from both the petroleum and natural gas systems sector, as the following chart shows:


Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has even said:

“About half of that progress we have made [on greenhouse gas emissions] is from the natural-gas boom.”

And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also actually credits hydraulic fracturing and natural gas as the causes for the United States’ dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply…is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” (Ch. 7, p. 18)

What’s more is the increased use of natural gas in power generation has led to a 20 year low in carbon emissions, according to a 2015 Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. In fact, on an emissions rate basis the report declared that “2015 will be the cleanest year in over 60 years for which we have historical data.”

At the end of the day it is clear that Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry is making great strides to reduce methane emissions—and like the other trends seen across the country—has been successful in doing so. Meanwhile, it’s because of our increased use of natural gas that greenhouse gas emissions have substantially declined. That’s a win-win across the Commonwealth.

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