Methane leaks from oil and gas production on federal lands

New proposals from EPA and BLM to curtail leaks are due out this summer.

 

Gas and oil production on federal lands in Western states releases large amounts of methane into the air, contributing to climate change and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year in lost royalties, according to an analysis released this week.

Gas flares contribute to methane emissions from oil and gas production.
Tim Evanson

Companies could reduce these emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, nearly 40 percent by adopting cost-effective methods already employed by some producers, according to a study by ICF International, a major consulting firm. The efforts would pay for themselves because companies would have more natural gas — mostly methane — to sell.

The report fills a missing piece of a big puzzle, which scientists, engineers and regulators are scrambling to put together. Natural gas holds promise for addressing global warming because using it to generate electricity releases fewer greenhouse gases than using coal, which provides about 40 percent of the nation’s electricity. But significant questions remain about how much those benefits are undermined by methane that leaks when companies drill and produce natural gas. 

The activist group Environmental Defense Fund, which commissioned the new report, hopes the findings inform regulators and the public, as the federal government is poised this summer to release two proposed rules. One proposal, from the Environmental Protection Agency, would address methane emissions from the oil and gas production on both public and private lands. The second, from the Bureau of Land Management, would target oil and gas produced on federal lands. President Obama, as part of his climate action plan, has pledged to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by at least 40 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The upcoming proposals would be a step toward achieving that goal.

Most of the methane pollution quantified by the report is vented into the air or escapes from flares that fail to completely combust the gas. A large amount of the gas also leaks from drilling and production equipment.

The report, which was based primarily on data from federal agencies, shows that nearly 48 billion cubic feet of federal natural gas was lost through leaks and venting in 2013. More than 18 billion cubic feet of tribal natural gas was lost. Most of that gas was methane. Significantly more gas was lost during natural gas production than oil production.

Top five states generating the most methane waste in federal lands, taking into account venting, leaking and flaring of gas.
Environmental Defense Fund
The government forfeited some $31 million it would have been able to collect in royalties from the lost natural gas, according to the analysis. (The report did not calculate the losses in tribal royalties because tribal royalty rates vary greatly.)

“It’s both an environmental and a fiscal issue and it’s important for both reasons,” says Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director for Environmental Defense Fund.

Grossman hopes the study will impress the EPA and BLM to follow through with strong regulations.

“Natural gas can be a net climate benefit, if we demand the most efficient production and development processes as possible,” Grossman added.

Industry representatives stressed that companies already are doing a lot to reduce leaks and venting. Some states, including Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, have set pollution regulations that will reduce methane losses. 

“Companies already are incentivized to reduce these emissions,” said Howard Feldman, senior director of regulation and science for the American Petroleum Institute. “Many companies are taking these approaches. Not all. The vast majority of production is coming from companies already taking these measures.”

Elizabeth Shogren is HCN's Washington, DC Correspondent.  

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a friendly, detail-oriented, and self-motivated Development Coordinator to provide administrative support to the Development department. This position will report to...
  • FIELD ORGANIZER, MONTANA
    Help Northern Plains Resource Council protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the...
  • FOR SALE
    Successful llama trekking business with Yellowstone National Park concession for sale! A fun and enriching business opportunity of a lifetime! Call 406-580-5954
  • ALBUQUERQUE VACATION HOME
    Centrally located. One bed, one bath, lovely outdoor patio, well-stocked kitchen.
  • NEW AGRARIAN PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Quivira (www.quiviracoaltion.org), a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that aims to shift current practices of agriculture and land stewardship to those that produce good food, support meaningful...
  • SPECTACULAR SCENIC MOUNTAIN VIEW HOME BUILDING SITE
    Located on top of Sugarloaf Mtn. 5 mi W of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. $80,000.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    opportunity in Eugene, Oregon! To learn more and to apply, visit our website at www.bufordpark.org.
  • FUNDRAISING & OUTREACH COORDINATOR
    Does the prospect of working to protect one of the Southwest's last remaining flowing rivers get you excited? Join the team at Friends of the...
  • DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST
    Position Summary Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a dynamic, organized, and creative Digital Engagement Specialist to be an essential part of our growing Communications Team....
  • NORTH IDAHO FIELD REPRESENTATIVE
    Founded by sportsmen and women 1936, the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to conserving and enhancing Idaho's natural resources, wildlife, habitat,...
  • SMALL HISTORICAL FARM FOR SALE - NEW MEXICO
    23-acres, adobe home, shop, barn, gardens, pasture, orchard. https://www.zillow.com/homes/222-Calle-Del-Norte,-Monticello,-Nm_rb/ or call 575-743-0135.
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year round outdoor living. REDUCED to: $1.17 MM 575-536-3109
  • GRANTS MANAGER AND EDITOR
    Are you a strong communicator who excels at building relationships, writing winning grant proposals, and staying organized? You sound like a good fit for our...
  • REPORTER
    The Wallowa County Chieftain, has an opening for a reporter. Experience with and understanding of editorial photography also required. Journalism degree or equivalent, an understanding...
  • 2017 JOHN DEERE LAWN MOWER Z930R
    15 hours on it, 3 years warranty, 22,5 HP, $1600 Sale price. Contact: [email protected]
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • HEAD BREAD/PASTRY BAKER AND ASSISTANT POSITIONS
    Hiring Part/Full time for Summer Season - entry level & experienced positions. Year round employment for optimal candidates. Pay DOE.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921