Two major industry groups said today that EPA needs to lower its methane emissions estimates, which are 50% higher than indicated by a new survey of hydraulic fracturing emissions. The American Petroleum Institute and America’s Natural Gas Alliance released what they call the “most comprehensive study to date.”

The report entitled “Characterizing Pivotal Sources of Methane Emissions from Unconventional Natural Gas Production,” is a summary and analysis of survey results conducted by the URS Corporation and the LEVON Group.

ANGA and API claim the study provides more accurate information than data EPA used to formulate its stricter emissions rules for natural gas producers that will be gradually phased in until 2015. The ANGA/API-sponsored survey examined data on 91,000 wells – which compares to 8,800 wells considered by the EPA – and includes “data from nearly 20 percent of all U.S. natural gas-producing wells,” ANGA said a statement.

When asked on a media call if they planned to challenge the EPA rule in court, API’s Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs, Howard Feldman, said that decision had yet to be made.

High-Quality Data is Critical

With regard to the accuracy of the data, the industry representatives said there was no incentive to “fudge the numbers” because companies will be required to report data to the EPA later this year and would thus have little to gain by providing inaccurate data now. They also said the outside contractors that conducted the study are also used by the EPA.

API and ANGA said part of the motivation for the survey was to provide more accurate data to the academic community. Robert Howarth, Ph.D., David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University, has studied emissions released during natural gas development for several years. Howarth has taken the position that greenhouse gases emitted during gas production, transportation and power generation could be a worse contributor to global warming than emissions from mining and burning coal.

Although he had not yet seen the report and could not comment in detail, Haworth told Breaking Energy in an email, “We are open to using all sources of data, certainly including from industry sources. However, one would want to ascertain if the wells used in their analysis are truly representative, and if the information presented is complete and without bias (industry of course has a huge financial stake in the issue, with much to be gained if the methane emissions are low).”

And the Debate Continues…

ANGA Vice President and Chief Economist, Sarah Banaszak, told journalists on the media call, results of the new industry-sponsored study show the Cornell University research relied on flawed data because it was based on the EPA’s lower estimates.

Howarth said via email the most accurate natural gas development GHG emissions estimates are generated from, “integrated measurements at the landscape scale, rather than just using the emission-based factor (adding up each leak and vent, process by process, and joint by joint)…”.

He went on to say, “I note that several groups are now pursuing the more accurate integrated approach, and the first paper to do so (Petron et al. 2012, from a group at the University of Colorado and NOAA) has found methane emissions that are at the high end of what we estimated, somewhat higher than the EPA estimates, and considerably higher than most industry-connected studies (which always seem to be the lowest ones). So that makes me a little skeptical of this new API result.”