Appalachian Basin

PA DEP Finds Methane Emissions Plummet as Natural Gas Production Ramps Up

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently released data from its 2013 air emissions inventory of the natural gas industry. The data clearly show that methane emissions continue to decrease in Pennsylvania —as is the case across the country– all while natural gas production in the state has skyrocketed. Although the data show some levels of air emissions have increased, it’s important to note that total aggregate emissions are down.

Despite the significant increases in types and numbers of facilities now reporting data to the DEP due to soaring production, methane emissions are down by 13 percent and carbon monoxide emissions decreased by 10 percent since 2012. Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, spoke to this decrease in a recent article:

“The sharp decline in methane emissions, despite increased activity, is particularly encouraging and reinforces the fact that our strong state-based regulations and innovative technologies are delivering meaningful environmental results.”

The practice of using green completions to improve emissions on wells sites is a major part of how the industry continues to decrease methane emissions, while increasing production. And according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, some companies are going even further to reduce emissions:

“Southwestern Energy, based in Houston, is helping to organize a coalition to drop the industry’s leak rate to no more than 1 percent. The ONE Future Coalition includes eight companies and is collecting data to study leaks, said Sarah Battisti, a Southwestern spokeswoman.”

What’s more is, in terms of air emissions, the total average aggregate in tons are down as well. When looking at the total wells sites and midstream facilities contained in the below chart as well as the total amount of emissions, there’s actually a large drop from 16.76 air emission units per site/facility in 2012 to 12.86 per site/facility in 2013.

DEP-emissions13

The data should also be put in the wider context. According to a February DEP presentation on the data:

“Sox emissions decreased as a result of the continued conversion to natural gas and installation of control equipment on the Electric Generating Units (EGUs). In comparison to emissions from EGUs, the reported natural gas emissions are very low for all criteria pollutants, with the exception of VOCs.”

As Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley said in the press release announcing the new data,

“While we are experiencing some increases in emissions from the natural gas sector, overall, our air quality continues to improve due to emissions reductions from other point sources such as electric generating units,” Quigley said. “We remain committed to developing and implementing the most effective ways to control and reduce emissions from Pennsylvania’s natural gas sites.” (emphasis added)

The increased use of natural gas is having tremendous impacts on decreasing air pollution. In the 2012 DEP natural gas emissions inventory, DEP highlighted that the total emissions reductions represented “between $14 billion and $37 billion of annual public health benefits” and 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)

EID’s recently released Earth Day video also highlights other ways shale is helping to improve air quality across the country.

To sum up: the DEP’s data show a decrease in methane emissions as well as an overall decrease on air emission units per site/facility, underscoring the industry’s active and ongoing investments to prevent leaks and reduce emissions. The natural gas industry remains committed to decreasing emissions across the board in the Marcellus, and will continue to work with the state to develop this resource in environmentally friendly ways.

5 Comments
  • Anna
    Posted at 2:51 pm, July 09, 2015 Reply

    While you make an interesting point, the fact still remains that the oil and gas industry self reports, and they have been known to have wide discrepancies in data reporting (this includes data on how much they “recycle” wastewater, how much they dump into our landfills, and the amount of VOCs, air toxics, and methane they release into the air throughout the process of fracking).
    If heavily emitted, methane can have a detrimental impact on people’s health and the environment. That isn’t something to mess around with.
    Would these numbers remain the same if the DEP or a third party company did the reporting? I think the citizens of PA deserve to find out.

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