The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

More Good News on Methane Emissions – Again

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted February 10, 2015

Standout findings in a new major field study on methane emissions from natural gas collection and processing facilities across 13 states, led by Colorado State University:

  • Of 130 facilities that collect natural gas from production wells, remove impurities and deliver it to inter- and intrastate pipeline networks,  101 had methane loss rates below 1 percent – including 85 of the 114 gathering facilities and all 16 of the processing plants studied. Put another way, methane containment at these facilities is more than 99 percent.
  • The majority of emissions resulted from abnormalities involving broken or faulty equipment – issues that are relatively easy to address.

Howard Feldman, API’s senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs:

“The industry has every incentive to reduce emissions and sell more natural gas to consumers. We’re making remarkable progress reducing emissions, and this progress will continue as operators detect and seal leaks – including leaks from the few high emitting sites identified in the study. Burdensome new regulations would only interfere with our progress reducing emissions and jeopardize production of the clean-burning natural gas that has helped drive U.S. carbon emissions to near 20-year lows.”

The Colorado State study, one of 16 organized by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and made possible by the cooperation of a number of industry members, follows other research showing that the picture on methane emissions from natural gas production continues to  improve.

A University of Texas study (also sponsored by EDF) published late last year found that emissions from natural gas production were down 10 percent from what the same researchers found a year earlier. EPA data shows that methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems represent just 28.5 percent of total methane emissions, and that methane emissions from fracked natural gas wells have fallen 73 percent since 2011.

The larger point is that the science belies the Obama administration’s push to impose new regulations on methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations. Industry, which has market incentives to capture as much methane as possible, is working under existing regulations to do just that – and it is succeeding. Industry efforts could be more effective and timely than an additional layer of regulation. Feldman:

“EPA’s own analysis shows that new methane regulations announced by the Obama administration are unnecessary in view of the dramatic progress the oil and natural gas industry is already making in reducing emissions. New regulations on methane emissions may score positive headlines and political points, but they may also undermine President Obama’s overall climate goals, as well as job-creating energy development. Regulatory policy should be based on science, not politics.”

Researchers in the Colorado State study say their work suggests solutions are at hand. The Coloradoan reports:

Allen Robinson, who led field measurements for the study, said the majority of methane emissions were the result of abnormal processes, such as a broken or leaky valve. … (Lead researcher Anthony) Marchese said many of these issues were easily remedied “within 10 minutes” at gathering sites, promising a “tremendous opportunity” for emission reduction if staff are equipped to look for and fix elevated emissions.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.