Methane Leaks Prompt Calls for Regulation

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” touted by industry as the technological saving grace to our nation’s energy woes, has caused much concern to the environmental community during recent years. Amidst claims that burning natural gas is a less carbon-intensive source of electricity and heat, frackers have had to defend their business against assertions that their activities cause earthquakes, air and water pollution, and contribute to climate change. A recent NASA satellite study of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and Colorado confirms what environmental researchers have long suspected: delinquent methane emitted from over 40,000 gas and oil wells has been accumulating in the atmosphere, where it will remain trapping heat for years to come.

gasThe Delaware-sized methane plume observed in the study floats above the San Juan Basin, trapping 80 times as much heat as CO2 in the atmosphere. Methane, the main component of natural gas, accounts for about 9% of US greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA states that 30% of this methane comes from industry, while the rest enters the atmosphere by ways of agriculture, human-generated waste, and natural sources. Equipment used to produce, store, and transport natural gas, often old and outdated, is dangerously prone to leaks. This study is one of the first to demonstrate the size of the problem.

The problem of methane emissions resulting from gas production isn’t just apparent to the climate-focused. Energy companies are seeing nearly $2 billion worth of their product drift away into the atmosphere, nearly 8 million metric tons per year (enough to power every household in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia). Despite the large financial incentive to capture this gas and bring it to market, aging infrastructure and poorly regulated implementation and operation of gas production technologies continue to be largely responsible for escaped methane. In many cases, natural gas and oil are located in the same shale formations. When a company drills for oil, they often flare excess methane into the atmosphere, where it will trap significantly more heat than its GHG counterpart, CO2.

While the energy industry claims that it is well aware of its leakage problem and taking measures to install updated equipment aimed at slashing the delinquent natural gas, environmental groups are calling for tighter regulations on oil and gas producers. According to a report by the Clean Air Task Force, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, there are existing technologies that will significantly reduce the gas that escapes from wells across the country. Requiring oil and gas producers to use them, however, has elicited a predictably negative response from the energy industry. According to the Washington Post,

“The Obama administration is reviewing a host of possible remedies that range from voluntary inducements to more costly regulations requiring oil and gas companies to install monitoring equipment and take steps to control the loss of methane at each point in the production process. The announcement of the administration’s new policies has been repeatedly delayed amid what officials describe as internal debate over the cost of competing proposals and, indeed, over whether methane should be regulated separately from the mix of other gases given off as byproducts of oil and gas drilling.”

Methane in the atmosphere is a serious climate concern. While there will certainly always be methane in the atmosphere from sources such as volcanoes and livestock (and we can reduce the latter), the additional emissions from our fossil fuel industries are unnecessary and preventable. Despite the obvious economic reasons to capture escaped gas, reducing methane emissions is imperative to meeting the climate goals set forth by the Obama administration, which we are far from meeting. We urge you to take the time to contact the White House, your representatives and the EPA to let them know you support regulations to decrease methane emissions from the energy industry.

Fracking Banned in Texas Town

In a decidedly disappointing mid-term election for the Green American constituency, there were still a few victories to feel good about. In a traditionally energy-friendly Texas town, residents spoke up over their concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial gas and oil extraction technique that has exploded in popularity throughout the US over the past decade. Texas is currently the nation’s largest oil and gas producer, and the political climate surrounding the issue is beginning to change.

First_gas_from_the_Oselvar_module_on_the_Ula_platform_on_April_14th,_2012The town of Denton, TX has over 270 active gas wells within its city limits. The population is 121,123, but the majority of the mineral wealth in the city does not belong to Denton residents. With the population set to almost double in the next twenty years, concerns over air and water quality, increased seismicity, and exposure to harmful chemicals have had local legislators seriously considering the benefits of gas production.

Considering that only 1% of the city’s property tax revenues come from natural gas development, and the city budget can attribute a paltry 1% to natural gas royalties, the city started to account for the implicit costs of fossil fuel development; degraded ecosystems, increased public health costs, and continued contribution to the CO2 emissions that the world is desperately trying to control. For the citizens of Denton, protecting their land, water, atmosphere, and families from the ill effects of energy production was a no-brainer.

Tuesday saw 58.64% of Denton voters raise their voices in opposition of continued fracking in their city. The passage of the measure represents the first ban on fracking in the entire state of Texas, widely recognized as one of the technology’s main champions. The gas industry is fully expected to contest the moratorium, but proponents of the measure, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, are confident that the language in the ban will stand up in court.

While gas companies operating on the Barnett Shale in Denton have reason to be upset, the citizens have other ideas for the energy future of their city. Denton’s energy portfolio is comprised of 40% wind-generated electricity, and the town is committed to conserving resources and using their land in a sustainable manner. Green America salutes the citizens of Denton for taking a stand against a toxic, damaging, and unjust industry operating in their backyards. To learn more about fracking in Denton, visit http://frackfreedenton.com/.

Cove Point: Clear and Present Danger 

Never mind that exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asian markets would cause U.S. energy prices to rise. Never mind that opening up an export facility on the Maryland Eastern Shore would create incentives to open up Marcellus Shale deposits for gas production in the western region of the state. Even if we look past the massive greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and other environmental catastrophes associated with natural gas production, the planned LNG export facility in Cove Point raises a serious and immediate concern: safety.

Protesters march to the FERC building, where the federal agency will decide whether or not to allow the proposed Cove Point LNG export terminal.
Protesters march to the FERC building, where the federal agency will decide whether or not to allow the proposed Cove Point LNG export terminal.

In April, the assistant fire chief of the Solomons Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad stepped down from his post after expressing safety concerns over the Cove Point project. The concerns arose from the fact that the department had not received any formal LNG safety training, and was not prepared to deal with a potential catastrophic explosion. While responding to an LNG emergency would first be the responsibility of Calvert County, any volunteer without proper equipment or training is at a serious risk in doing so.  A representative from Dominion stated that they were working with the county to educate volunteers on the hazards and risks of LNG.

So what exactly makes LNG so dangerous? Converting natural gas into its liquid form requires chilling the gas to -161.5o C (258.7o F) using massive refrigerant compressors. These compressors, powered by natural gas themselves, circulate the gas at close to atmospheric pressure until it becomes a liquid, making it easier to store and transport by ship. LNG can vaporize and form highly explosive clouds in pipelines and other parts of the facility if its container leaks. In a phenomenon called rapid phase transition, the heat transfer from spilling enough water at room temperature on the subzero LNG can cause a tremendous “cold explosion.”

Explosions in the last decade in Algeria and as recently as this past April in Washington state have left environmentalists, emergency responders, and citizens living near proposed facilities in the U.S. understandably concerned.  So far there are two approved export facilities in Louisiana, with one already under construction. While the LNG industry maintains a respectable track record in taking safety measures to prevent explosions, leaks, and spills throughout the process, further expansion of liquefaction facilities situated around populated areas only increases the risk of an avoidable catastrophe. The bottom line is it only takes one mistake to create a devastating explosion, and irreparably harm a community.

Residents of Lusby, Maryland have organized and are demanding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC conduct a full environmental impact assessment to weigh the risks against the rewards of the Cove Point facility as touted by Dominion Resources. While Dominion dangles the prospect of 3000 construction jobs and 75 permanent positions to local power brokers, Calvert County residents are speaking up in defense of their delicate bay ecology, and the economy that depends on it. The risks posed by sea level rise, potential explosions, and large-scale environmental damage due to expanded fracking operations have many Marylanders in favor of clean energy development, such as offshore wind and solar.

A Cove Point mother and her family speak in front of the Capital in opposition of the proposed LNG export facility in their neighborhood.
A Cove Point mother and her family speak in front of the Capital in opposition of the proposed LNG export facility in their neighborhood.

Independent studies often find more hazards associated with the proposed facility than those commissioned by regulatory agencies. While the economic benefits of a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Cove Point have been presented loud and clear, it is also clear that those benefits would do little for a Bay town that’s lost its bay. After picketing the FERC building, submitting thousands of public comments demanding a full risk assessment, and gathering en masse on the streets of Washington, DC to protest the project, Lusby residents remain uneasy about what the future holds for their slice of the Chesapeake.

Clean Energy Now! No Fracked Gas Exports!

July13-fbcover[1]Momentum is building around the country – and on July 13 our nation will see its first national mobilization against the export of fracked natural gas and in support of the clean energy economy we so desperately need.

Green America is proud to join our allies in supporting the rally and march on July 13 in Washington, DC: Stop Fracked Gas Exports: Cove Point and Beyond!

Green America members and colleagues have taken a firm stand against the development of a fracked, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant at Cove Point, MD on the Chesapeake Bay. The plant has known threats to human and environmental health – and yet the government has failed to require that a full Environmental Impact Statement be conducted before proceeding with plans for the facility.

We have urged the Maryland Public Service Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the Cove Point LNG export facility. Water pollution, air pollution, explosions, increased likelihood of earthquakes, and increased gas costs here at home are key reasons to oppose the export of fracked gas.

Now more than ever we need to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that will serve us for generations to come. Every dollar that goes to dirty energy is a dollar taken away from a clean energy future.

Having delivered our statements signed by thousands of concerned individuals and business leaders, we’ll next make our views visible with a major coalitional rally and march in the nation’s capital. Our message is simple: No gas exports from Cove Point and beyond; Invest now in renewable energy and energy efficiency!

Sign up
for the rally and march today! And meet fellow Green Americans at noon at the northeast corner of 3rd St, SW and Independence Ave., SW — look for the Green America sign!

Ohio Earthquakes Underscore Fracking Dangers

This opinion piece originally ran in local newspapers around the country starting January 16.  You are free to repost to your own blog or Web site, or to submit to your own local newspaper, attributed to Andrew Korfhage, online editor at Green America. 

Add yet another new concern to the growing list of reasons to oppose hyraudlic fracturing, the natural-gas extraction process known as “fracking”: Earthquakes.

That’s right, following a New Year’s Eve earthquake in Youngstown, Ohio — the town’s eleventh since D&L Energy began injecting drilling waste underground in December 2010 — state leaders put a hold on proposals for new natural-gas extraction wells within a five-mile radius.

With earthquakes previously rare in this northeastern corner of Ohio, seismologists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) affirmed the likelihood that fracking activities had caused the quakes. Even with the moratorium, they predicted that the current damage would cause more earthquakes in the region for up to a year.

“You’re pumping this fluid into a crack and the pressure of this fluid is encouraging the fault to slip,” LDEO’s John Armbuster told National Public Radio. “The well has been pumping for a year. It’s going to take a period of time comparable to that for the effects of this pumping to completely dissipate.”

Continue reading “Ohio Earthquakes Underscore Fracking Dangers”