Posts tagged "Methane"
*UPDATE* EPA Data Show 66 Percent Drop in Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas
Saturday, February 9th, 2013 | 0 Comments
**Cross-posted from Oil, Gas Production Among Top Greenhouse-Gas Sources.”
—Original post, February 7, 2013—
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s latest report on greenhouse gases (GHGs) shows a significant drop in methane emissions from natural gas development, as compared to EPA’s prior data. The latest reporting from EPA suggests methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems were 82.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2011. Last year, EPA’sGHG Inventory – which assessed data for 2010 – estimated that natural gas systems alone emitted more than 215 million metric tons, while petroleum systems added another 31 million metric tons.
Taken together, EPA’s latest data on petroleum and natural gas suggest a 66 percent decline in methane emissions from the agency’s prior estimates. Here are some other noteworthy findings from EPA:
- Oil and natural gas systems now emit fewer methane emissions than waste facilities, which include landfills and water treatment plants.
- NOTE: EPA previously said petroleum and natural gas systems “are the largest source of CH4 [methane] emissions from industry in the United States.” That obviously has changed.
- Total GHG emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems are roughly ten times smaller than the largest source: power plants.
- Emissions from power plants declined from 2010 to 2011, due in large part to the increased use of natural gas.
- Overall GHG emissions in the United States declined by about three percent from 2010 to 2011.
It is worth noting, however, that it’s difficult to make an exact apples-to-apples comparison between EPA’s previous estimates of total methane emissions from oil and gas and the data released this week. The agency’s latest data represent “85-90 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions,” according to the EPA, as they exclude smaller sources in the existing categories. The data also exclude agriculture, which can be a significant source of methane: EPA’s prior inventory of GHGs, released in 2012, showed enteric fermentation from livestock and manure management were two of the top five sources of methane in the United States.
Nevertheless, the bigger picture is certainly good news: greenhouse gas emissions are falling in the United States, led in part by an affordable and abundant fuel like natural gas. And given all of the attention on methane emissions, it’s great to see that the current data suggest a significant decline from the agency’s previous estimate.
Of course, you’d probably never know many of these facts if you accepted the media’s take on EPA’s data.
E&E News said the report revealed “massive methane emissions” from the oil, natural gas, and coal sectors, identifying only the methane-as-CO2-equivalent number for petroleum and natural gas systems – 82.6 million metric tons. As mentioned above, 82.6 million metric tons is two-thirds less than EPA’s prior estimate, some helpful context that was unfortunately ignored. Scientific American re-posted the E&E story, adding that methane emissions are “on the rise” in the United States, apparently unaware of the actual data related to oil and natural gas.
A separate piece for E&E led with the statement that petroleum and natural gas systems “accounted for 40 percent of the methane emissions reported to the U.S. EPA in 2011.” Again, no mention of the drop in EPA’s estimates, nor the acknowledgment that landfills, treatment plants, and other waste facilities had overtaken oil and gas with higher methane emissions.
But the worst offender was Bloomberg, which ran with the headline, “Fracking Seen by EPA as No. 2 Emitter of Greenhouse Gases” – a demonstrably false characterization. (That’s disappointing, too; the story that followed the bogus headline was actually decently written and captured a lot of the critical details from EPA’s report.)
Petroleum and natural gas systems were listed by EPA as the second largest GHG emitter, although the difference in emissions between number one (power plants) and number two was enormous: 2.2 billion tons versus 225 million tons. Petroleum and natural gas systems also include things like LNG import facilities, offshore oil and gas wells, pipelines and compressor stations – none of which could ever accurately be described as “fracking.”
In fact, several facilities studied were in places like the North Slope of Alaska and even Hawaii, where no hydraulic fracturing is even occurring. Additionally, some of the midstream infrastructure analyzed throughout the country has been in operation for decades and was constructed long before the “shale boom” ever began.
Even worse for Bloomberg is that EPA’s page explaining all of the components of its “petroleum and natural gas systems” category never once mentions the words “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking.” That means the EPA said nothing about emissions specifically from hydraulic fracturing, rendering absurd Bloomberg’s suggestion that the process was somehow “seen by EPA” as the number two emitter.
But don’t just take our word for it. John Quigley, the former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said of Bloomberg’s headline: “Imprecise language misinforms and clouds the discussions we should be having and the actions we should be taking.” A reporter for SNL Energy tweeted: “Bloomberg appears to be labeling ALL oil and gas activity as #fracking. Kind of a stretch, dontcha think?”
Interestingly, FuelFix.com (a blog for the Houston Chronicle) ran Bloomberg’s story and even used the same headline. A few hours later, however, the blog changed the headline to “Houston companies among top polluters on federal list” – not exactly a sparkling gem, but certainly a far cry from the previous misappropriation of emissions to hydraulic fracturing. It’s also telling that even a news outlet running a Bloomberg wire story was not comfortable using Bloomberg’s designated headline on its website.
Despite the media’s penchant for alarmist headlines and what often appears to be an insatiable need to link every aspect of oil and gas development to hydraulic fracturing, the facts are clear: EPA’s latest report on greenhouse gas emissions made several reassuring observations, including declines not only in greenhouse gases across the entire country, but also in methane emissions from oil and gas systems specifically.
Examining the Facts in Portage Co. Methane Case
Friday, January 11th, 2013 | 1 Comment
This week, a local NBC affiliate out of Cleveland did a story on a Portage County family (the Klines) concerned about the levels of methane in their water well, and pretty convinced that a natural gas well drilled more than 1,800 feet away from their property is the sole reason why it’s there.
To their credit, the producers in Cleveland did a pretty good job of laying out the situation in a pretty balanced way, noting several important facts (we’ll get to those in just a bit) that, taken together, render the notion of oil and gas development having anything to do with this event a virtual impossibility. Unfortunately, producers with the Today show in New York didn’t quite apply the same standard of accuracy in running with the story on its broadcast this morning, airing a piece that carefully avoids mention of the facts, even in the face of a mountain of evidence that directly contradicts its thesis.
Since the focus of NBC’s “investigative” report was on the presence of two substances (methane and chloride) in the Kline water well, let’s examine each of those with the kind of attention to detail to which we hope news outlets – and, separately, the Today show — will adhere in the future.
It’s important to note right up top that the operator of the nearby natural gas well in question conducted extensive baseline water testing before any development activities ever proceeded – sampling the Kline well even though it technically resides outside the “presumptive liability” zone of 1,500-feet from the well. A copy of those test results can be found here.
As you’ll see, methane was found in the Klines’ water well before the natural gas well was even drilled. Other baseline water tests focused on the area in question confirm that methane is commonly found in water wells throughout the region. Again, these findings come from samples taken before drilling began, meaning the methane detected is naturally occurring, and sometimes present in fairly high concentrations.
But perhaps the most important detail concerning the Klines’ water well is this: According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the Kline water well was actually drilled through the existing water aquifer and into a rock formation below called the “hard blue shale.” According to the statement that ODNR submitted to Today: “The water well in question was found to be drilled into shale, which is known to contain methane and is naturally occurring.”
In other words: natural gas was found in a water well that was drilled into a shale formation that contains natural gas.
Here’s why that’s relevant: According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the relatively shallow shale rocks that underlie Portage Co. have long been known to house some pretty low-quality drinking water. In a report filed by USGS in 1966 – 56 years ago, mind you – the agency found that:
“the shale units in Portage County generally have not been used as a source of water because of either the poor quality of the water or its insufficient quantity.”
The fact that the Klines’ water well was drilled into one of those shales explains a lot about the composition and quality of their water.
One of the other points the reporter made sure to highlight in the Today show piece was that methane levels discovered in water sampling tests from December 2012 (based on tests conducted by ODNR) were higher than what was detected in the baseline samples collected in August 2012. So even if there were methane in the water beforehand – and lots of it – what could explain the increase in concentration?
Here, a 2008 report that appeared in a prominent scientific journal examining how and why levels of methane can change in groundwater might prove useful. That report, entitled “Spike-Like Concentration Change of Methane,” observed that it’s common for methane levels in groundwater to increase or decrease over time, as methane concentrations are “controlled by the hydrostatic pressure gradient in the aquifer.” According to the study, the pressure gradient can change for a number of reasons — not only due to withdrawals from the well, but also from atmospheric conditions, such as changes in barometric pressure. Because of this, changes in temperature can cause methane concentrations in groundwater to fluctuate.
The baseline tests were taken in the summer, whereas ODNR’s tests were taken in the late fall/winter.
Another substance that came up in samples of the Kline water well was chloride. Once again, baseline water tests provide much-needed information in this case, including before and after measurements of chloride itself.
In those baseline tests, chloride was detected in the Klines’ water at a concentration of 414.8 mg/L. The U.S. EPA’s standard, however, is 250 mg/L, meaning the chloride concentration significantly exceeded the acceptable limit set by the EPA before drilling even began.
With all of these facts spread out on the table, NBC News chose only to say that, according to ODNR’s investigation, “the well water’s chloride levels were nearly twice the safe limit.” No mention of the baseline data, and certainly no mention of the fact that chloride levels far exceeded safe limits before the company ever drilled its natural gas well.
But chloride levels were slightly higher in ODNR’s tests (taken in December) than the baseline samples from August. How to explain that?
For one, a 2004 report on Ohio groundwater from USGS found elevated levels of chloride in Portage Co., specifically in the winter months. The reason, according to USGS, was the “direct application of deicing chemicals” to roadways. USGS added that “downgradient dissolved chloride concentrations (mean 124-345 mg/L) rarely returned to background concentrations (mean 7-37 mg/L) throughout the study period.” In Portage Co. specifically, two of the three wells sampled registered average chloride concentrations of between 406 mg/L and 534 mg/L, with some readings over 1,900 mg/L.
In other words, during the winter months, water aquifers in Portage Co. often experience spikes in chloride levels, and significant ones at that – a phenomenon that was observed, recorded and lamented in the area long before any shale development came to town.
There’s another element that may have contributed to the rise in chlorides, as detailed in a Nov. 2011 story in the Columbus Dispatch. The headline of that piece? “Stored road salt might have tainted well water.” Elsewhere, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has recognized road salts and other de-icers as significant hazards to groundwater quality, identifying the threat of chloride leaking into water supplies as a key reason. The Washington Post put it more bluntly: “Road salt melts snow, but it contaminates groundwater and damages habitats.”
Notably, Portage Co. experienced a large snowstorm last month – the same month as ODNR’s tests.
Also worth noting: Another report from ODNR, this one issued in 1990, identified Portage County specifically as having a high risk for naturally induced water contamination: “The diversity of hydrogeologic conditions in Portage County,” ODNR observed, “produces settings with a wide range of vulnerability to ground water contamination.”
With all of these facts available, the Today show nonetheless chose to ignore each and every one of them, opting instead to focus on sensationalism and “expert analysis” from well-known anti-shale activist groups – even shoehorning in a quick interview with a Washington, D.C.-based staffer from the NRDC. The segment then officially jumped the shark by trying its level best to compare the Klines’ situation with the infamous “flaming faucet” scene in Josh Fox’s thoroughly discredited movie Gasland.
But actually, linking the Portage Co. case with Gasland’s flaming faucet may be entirely fitting. As we remember, the initial reaction to that scene was to connect it to shale development, specifically the process of hydraulic fracturing. But according to an investigation by Colorado’s oil and gas regulators – whom Fox refused to allow in his documentary to explain the facts – the flaming faucet was “not related to oil and gas activity.”
Sounds familiar, huh?
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try and Try Again
Thursday, March 15th, 2012 | 0 Comments
That seems to be the motto of Granger Township residents Mark and Sandra Mangan. After having a previous lawsuit dismissed, the Mangans are now trying their luck in federal court.
They have been rebuffed by the Medina County Court of Common Pleas and multiple state agencies, whose findings were largely corroborated by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. So now, the Mangans are putting a full court press on the Ohio media in the hopes this will compel a federal court to consider their case.
The Facts of the Mangan Case
Testing conducted by ODNR, and reviewed by ATSDR, showed no contaminants in the Mangan’s water well that pose a threat to human health. ATSDR found:
Results of testing of the well water for inorganic and VOC parameters in November 2008 and May 2009 do not indicate a health concern about water consumption at this time. (page 3)
That finding was similar to what ODNR found in their earlier review that stated:
The inorganic water sample results did not indicate oilfield contaminants, the volatile organic chemicals, which consists of parameters that are byproducts of hydrocarbon or petroleum product and chlorinated solvents byproducts, were not detected. (page 2)
In Spite of Data Showing Otherwise, Mangan’s Claim Exposure to Hazardous Materials
Despite these facts, according to a recent article appearing in the Medina County Gazette, the Mangans “allege that [their] water wells have been contaminated, and that they have been, and continue to be, exposed to hazardous chemicals, including barium, manganese and strontium.”
While Ohio does not have drinking water quality standards for private water wells, the Division of Mineral Resources Management (DMRM) uses Primary and Secondary Drinking Water Contaminant Levels established by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine whether water is safe for human consumption.
These levels are authorized under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). If a constituent is deemed harmful to public health it is given a Primary Maximum Contaminant Level (PMCL), whereas Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels (SMCL) are non-enforceable and are in place to manage aesthetic effects. According to U.S. EPA:
National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWRs or secondary standards) are non-enforceable guidelines regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water. EPA recommends secondary standards to water systems but does not require systems to comply. However, states may choose to adopt them as enforceable standards.
Water tests conducted at the Mangan’s well show no presence of ANY material above maximum contaminant levels, either primary or secondary. In fact, ODNR’s review of multiple water tests found barium and manganese well below PMCL and SMCL standards.
Tests indicated barium at levels well below what’s deemed safe for consumption. They found barium at .57 milligrams per liter (mgl), its PMCL as established by U.S. EPA is 2.0 mgl. A review of the data shows the Mangan’s water supply meets SDWA levels.
What about claims regarding manganese contamination? ODNR testing showed manganese present in the Mangan’s well at .035 mgl. But what does this mean? Manganese does not have a PMCL as it does not pose a threat to public health. However, U.S. EPA does recommend that manganese in drinking water not exceed 0.05 mg/L. According to EPA, this recommendation is to avoid staining of clothing and fixtures.
Also, According to ATSDR, manganese is “routinely contained in groundwater” and according to U.S. EPA’s Drinking Water Health Advisory for Manganese:
Manganese is an essential nutrient for humans and animals and adults consume between 0.7 and 10.9 mg/day in the diet, with even higher intakes being associated with vegetarian diets.
A cursory review of this data shows the Mangan’s well contains less manganese than adults consume each day as part of their diet.
Finally, neither ODNR or ATSDR found strontium in any water samples obtained from the Mangan residence.
Both agencies did find methane in the Mangan’s well, however methane is non-toxic in water, though it can pose a threat when in confined areas. Both ATSDR and ODNR have indicated that a likely source for the methane in the Mangan’s well is an abandoned natural gas well on a neighbor’s property (Burgess Cole #1), unrelated to Utica Shale development, that was damaged during construction activities. According to ATSDR’s letter:
Another potential source of the gas in the residential wells is a previously abandoned natural gas well (referred to as Burgess Cole #1)… During the November, 2011 inspection by the Granger Fire Department, a damaged area of the vent pipe was noted about 4 feet above ground surface.
For this reason ATSDR recommended the immediate correction of the Burgess Cole #1 as it posed an explosive hazard. According to reports, ODNR is working to correct this matter.
Location, Location, Location
In their December 22, 2012 letter, ATSDR paid close attention to the location of the Mangan and Boggs residence in proximity to the Allard Well.
Both the Mangan and Boggs properties, located adjacent to each other, are removed from the Allard Well by over half a mile. In between the Allard Well and the Mangan’s home are seven other properties, all closer to the Allard Well, and none of whom have reported any issues with their water quality before, during or after well development.
After reviewing data from two state agencies, a federal agency, and actions by the Medina County Court of Common Pleas it is clear that the Allard Well is not the likely culprit for any problems claimed by the two homeowners. One hopes media outlets in northeast Ohio, and the federal court being petitioned, reviews this data before lending any credibility to a claim that appears to have no basis in fact.