“New EPA Rules Could Prevent ‘Fracking’ Backlash”

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The Story

“New EPA Rules Could Prevent ‘Fracking’ Backlash”
by Paul Tullis
Bloomberg BusinessWeek, April 18, 2012

The Pitch


On Tuesday, the EPA is set to release new regulations of methane emissions from natural gas production. How much of the greenhouse gas comes from fracking wells, and whether it’s enough to negate natural gas’s green credentials vs. coal, has been the subject of much contention among scientists lately. Would you be interested in a short piece for the web pegged to the EPA announcement? I could have everything ready before the announcement is made and plug in a couple of reaction quotes at the last minute so you can post the piece in the same news cycle.

A little background on this debate: Last year, Cornell researchers estimated a methane leak rate from fracking wells of almost 8%. This would be enough to wipe out any advantage natural gas has over coal, climate-wise, as a source of fuel for electricity generation. Industry reaction was fast and furious: the ANGA–as well as other scientists from Cornell–cast doubt on the study’s methodology.

Then in February, NOAA announced that air samples it had taken from an area of Colorado with a lot of fracking contained much more methane than they expected. Not as much as Cornell had estimated, but almost twice what the EPA had been saying the extraction method emits.

This week, researchers from Princeton and the EDF published a paper in one of the most respected peer-reviewed journals that showed that if the NOAA finding is representative, natural gas doesn’t provide climate benefits over coal in the time period when it’s crucial to reduce emissions. The study’s co-author says technologies exist to capture the methane lost at the well, but industry says it’s not worth the cost–and with natural gas prices falling below $2 this week for the first time in a decade, that’s not likely to change soon.

Unless, of course, the new EPA regs require natural gas producers to do so. How low the agency sets the cap on methane emissions from fracking could bear on whether or not we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while there’s still time for it to matter–and on the industry’s profitability as prices sink due to oversupply. If they allow up to 4%, producers probably won’t have to act. If it’s under 2.4%, they may fight the rule.

Please let me know your thoughts when you have a moment.

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