The Obama administration’s brand-new strategy to regulate methane emissions in its fight against so-called global warming is, in effect, an attack on the fracking industry, and could have profound consequences on America’s energy security.
In its newly released study, titled “Climate Action Plan: Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions,” the White House seeks to reduce methane gas emissions from four sources, landfills, coal mines and agriculture, along with oil and gas point sources.
Dairy farmers and cattle ranchers were quick to respond to the report. These groups are fearful that the “voluntary strategies” to reduce methane emissions by 25 percent by 2020 in dairy farms and feed lots will put additional burdens on these industries and drive some smaller operators out of business. Americans will see the effects with even higher meat and dairy prices at the market.
The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization states that cattle emit enough methane in a day to equal what a car consumes during the same period. Cattlemen, however, wonder if trying to mitigate cow belching and flatulence is really the best use of taxpayer dollars.
However, it is the proposal to tighten regulations on methane emissions in the oil and gas sector that could severely curtail America’s quest for energy independence.
After a six-month evaluation period, beginning in the spring of this year, the EPA will study how best to reduce methane reductions from oil and gas sources with regulations to come no later than the end of 2016.
But it is fracking, in fact, that is making a huge difference in America’s energy independence. A report from Bloomberg only weeks ago said during one week in December, the U.S. pumped 8.075 million barrels a day – the most since 1988.
U.S. production was up 18 percent in 12 months, the report said, pushed largely by advances in hydraulic fracturing and other technologies in North Dakota and Texas. Production in each of those states was up 21 percent.
It put energy independence within sight, as experts said the U.S. met approximately 86 percent of all of its own needs for the first eight months of 2013.
Many in the industry wonder why the increased regulations are necessary given that methane emissions have largely been reduced as oil and gas-drilling operators are finding ways of capturing the methane coming off drilling operations and selling it at a profit. Oil and gas companies are continuing to look for ways to capture this hydrocarbon and bring it to market.
Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, said the industry is doing a good enough job cutting emissions without the need for further regulations, which he said could have “a chilling effect on the American energy renaissance.”
“The industry has led efforts to reduce emissions of methane by developing new technologies and equipment, and recent studies show emissions are far lower than EPA projected just a few years ago,” he said in a statement.
He added: “Methane is natural gas that operators can bring to the market. There is a built-in incentive to capture these emissions.”
Even with methane emissions being reduced due to free market forces, environmentalists have been pushing the Obama administration to continue to crack down on methane emissions. They argue that the administration is not pushing industry to move faster on reducing all greenhouse gases. They believe that the EPA is not doing enough to address the problem of global warming and that methane emissions from hydrocarbon operations is actually 50 percent higher than EPA estimates.
In a press release issued last Friday, Deborah Nardone, campaign director of the Sierra Club’s Keeping Dirty Fuels in the Ground campaign wrote that Obama’s plan “to reduce climate-disrupting methane pollution is an important step in reining in an out of control industry exempt from too many public health protections.”
“Required methane controls for the oil and gas sector are essential. However, even with the most rigorous methane controls and monitoring in place, we will still fall short of what is needed to fight climate disruption if we do not reduce our reliance on these dirty fossil fuels,” Nardone wrote.
“Fracking threatens to transform our most beautiful wild places, our communities, and our backyards into dirty fuel industrial sites. The Obama Administration must work quickly to control methane from existing oil and gas fracking operations, close the exemptions that allow the oil and gas industry to benefit at the cost of our health, prevent future leasing of our public lands, and invest in truly clean energy like wind and solar, and commonsense solutions like energy efficiency.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a highly controversial but very effective method of extracting extra energy from the ground, has proven to be a boon to the U.S. economy and overall energy security. In the last two years, the oil and gas production industry added 36,000 jobs across the nation. Most of those jobs were in natural gas fracking, according to Dean Baker, an economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C.
Fracking techniques allow oil producers to bore sideways through oil and gas layers. The producers then apply explosives followed by a high-pressure stream of water, chemicals and sand, called proppants, to crack open the hydrocarbon deposit and free the trapped oil and gas.
Using these techniques, Texas has increased its oil and gas production by 21 percent from the end of 2012 through September 2013, according to the Energy Information Administration. Also according to EIA, North Dakota production increased 21 percent, Wyoming 14 percent, Oklahoma 19 percent, Colorado 11 percent and New Mexico 12 percent.
Counting all energy sources, including natural gas, petroleum, nuclear and renewables, the U.S. met 86 percent of its energy needs in the first eight months of 2013, when the most current data is available.
The surge in gas supplies puts the U.S. on track to be closer to its goal of energy independence than at any time since 1986.
Proponents of fracking and hydrocarbon drilling argue that the methane emissions rate has been estimated to be 50 times lower than the EPA’s estimate. Many see this new raft of regulations to actually be a method of curtailing fossil fuels “through the backdoor” and force the country to move toward more expensive alternative fuels.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the EPA “has been on a witch hunt to shut down hydraulic fracturing, and yet again the evidence doesn’t back up their excessive claims.”
“All too often we see the agency using flawed science for political purposes, but this report – partially funded by environmental activists no less – shows EPA’s emissions estimates from hydraulic fracturing are way off,” he said.