On Thursday, a new study from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that the levels of United States’ methane emissions are nowhere near as high as they were previously reported. The bombshell study casts doubt on years of attacks from anti-energy protestors and could undercut new legislation from Democrats in the US House of Representatives.
The Fight Against Methane
Anti-oil and gas activists have long used methane as one of their primary weapons in the fight against US energy output. The general claim was simple: oil and gas operations expel methane into the environment, and methane is the second biggest contributor to climate change. Take, for example, a study published in Science last June that revealed US oil and gas methane emissions were 60 percent higher than the numbers reported by the EPA.
Environmental Defense Fund Chief Scientist Steven Hamburg (and co-author of the study) proclaimed, “Scientists have uncovered a huge problem.”
No matter what your opinion of the oil and gas industry, that information sounds terrifying. Opponents of domestic energy have done little to squash that fear, too, painting a picture of an industry that pumps clouds and clouds of methane into the atmosphere with gleeful ignorance.
Thursday’s study, however, portrays the oil and gas industry in another light entirely.
A Groundbreaking Study
After examining methane emissions results at 20 US drilling sites for the better part of a decade, researchers at NOAA reported, “Our estimated increases in North American [methane emissions] are much smaller than estimates from some previous studies and below our detection threshold for total emissions increases …”
Put plainly, US oil and gas production has increased by 46 percent in the last decade; in roughly the same period, US methane emissions have increased “approximately 3.4 ± 1.4 % per year,” approximately 10 times lower than some previous studies.
Nobody Likes Escaped Methane
Two days before the release of the NOAA report, two Democrat Representatives introduced the Methane Waste and Prevention Act of 2019, a proposal that would use federal law to compel oil and gas companies to cut methane emissions to the bone.
Never mind the fact that earlier this year, Erik Milito, a rep from the American Petroleum Institute revealed that between 1990 and 2017, natural gas production rose an astounding 50 percent. Meanwhile, methane emissions from natural gas projects dropped 14 percent. In Milito’s words, “During a period of significant production growth … methane emissions went down.”
Getting on the Same Page
In their conclusion to the report, NOAA researchers explained that it was a single incorrect mathematical assumption that led prior researchers to their inflated conclusions. It wasn’t a political ploy (like the grandstanding that comes after the publication of a report of this kind), it was a simple mistake.
The NOAA report also serves as further proof that in spite of the repeated attempts to hold up oil and gas as the nation’s biggest climate offenders, the industry itself is committed to creating a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly product year after year.