New EPA data showing the United States continued to lead the world in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions in 2017 – a trend largely attributable to increased natural gas use – got quite a bit of attention last week. But largely overlooked was the fact that the same Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) data also show that petroleum and natural gas system methane emissions from reporting facilities declined eight percent from 2016 to 2017.
Specifically, the data show methane emissions from large oil and natural gas facilities declined eight million metric CO2 equivalent in 2017. These reductions came at the same time oil and natural gas production increased six percent (521,000 barrels per day) and three percent (700 million cubic feet per day), respectively, from 2016 levels.
These trends prove once again that the U.S. oil and natural gas industry is effectively reducing methane emissions even as record-shattering production has made the United States the world’s leading oil and gas producer.
It also thoroughly debunks “Keep It In the Ground” activist claims that methane leaks from oil and natural gas development wipe out the undeniable carbon dioxide emission reductions attributable to natural gas use, made possible by fracking. Not only have third-party experts affirmed natural gas’ climate benefits over other traditional fuels regardless of leakage rate or timeframe considered, this latest data show that already low methane emissions continue to decline.
Even the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) acknowledged in a recent blog post that the industry reduced methane emissions significantly last year.
And a deeper dive into the new EPA data show that last year’s emissions decline was anything but an anomaly. GHGRPH data show methane emissions from onshore oil and gas production were 44 million metric tons CO eq. in 2017 – down 24 percent from 2011 levels. Emissions from gathering and boosting stations were 19 mmt CO2 eq. in 2017, down 21 percent from last year, the first year that such emissions were reported to the EPA.
To be clear, the GHGRP data is not a comprehensive national emissions estimate. It is based on emissions reported from large facilities and represents roughly half of total GHG emissions. But even EDF acknowledges it that it “does provide us with an important snapshot of 2017 oil and gas methane emissions,” and is in line with the more comprehensive EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GHGI).
EDF has long argued that EPA is underestimating emissions. But even using EDF’s annual U.S. oil and natural gas system methane emissions estimate of 13 terragrams from its recent widely covered (and highly flawed) national emissions study, total annual U.S. oil and natural gas system methane emissions account for just 2.4 percent of the total 558 terragrams of global methane emissions, according to recent Gas Technology Institute’s Center for Methane Research research. That GTI report – based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), the 2016 Global Carbon Project’s Methane Budget and the 2017 EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory – estimated U.S. oil and gas methane emissions account for just 1.4 percent of overall global methane emissions and 0.2 percent of global radiative forcing.
The contribution of increased natural gas use to the United States’ world-leading greenhouse gas reductions over the past two decades is clear. And as this recent EPA data show, those overall reductions have not come at the expense of increased methane emissions, proving shale development is a win-win for the economy and the environment.