Methane Madness

The White House plans to cut methane emissions is reminiscent of the Red Queen shouting verdict first, trial later. The fact that the Administration is calling for a plan before having any idea of the extent of emissions or the cost andimplications of reducing them is just one more example of the mindless, ideological pursuit of its anti-fossil energy agenda. There is nothing too small to regulate.

Methane, which accounts for 9% of GHG emissions, comes from many sources as shown in the following pie chart:

The first problem with the Administration’s approach is accurately determining the magnitude of emissions. A casual review of the literature leads to doubts about the ability to make accurate measurements. One undated EPA report stated, “Global methane emissions from the fossil fuel industries have been poorly quantified and, in many cases, emissions are not well-known even at the country level. Historically methane emissions from the U.S. gas industry have been based on sparse data, incorrect assumptions, or both. …For this reason the assertion that global warming could be reduced by replacing coal and oil fuels with natural gas could not be defended.”

A 2013 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on emissions at natural gas production sites concluded that “Engineering estimates of methane emissions from natural gas production have led to varied projections of national emissions”. And that, “Current national inventories of methane emissions have been assembled, based on simple engineering models of the completion process.” It also addressed the “sources of uncertainty include measurement uncertainty, uncertainty introduced by the selection of sites, and uncertainty due to choices in performing regional or national averaging of equipment counts and emission factors”. Finally, a collaborative paper by NOAA, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, and the University of California, concluded, “A critical gap… is the lack of accurate and reliable estimates of associated emissions.”

The point of these citations is that if uncertainties in the methodologies for estimating emissions from natural gas production are so great, imagine how great they are in measuring the other sources. Before EPA starts down the regulatory road, it would be well served to invest the time in developing and testing measurement protocols.

At a time when the renaissance natural gas production is leading to a reduction in CO2 emissions , job creation, and increased capital investment, is EPA contemplating actions that would kill the goose that is laying the golden egg? Will it focus only on natural gas because it would offend the agricultural lobby to after rice production and cattle?

Methane can be a valuable by-product of natural gas production and land-use facilities that can use it for power generation. Hence, producers and operators already have an incentive to both reduce emissions and capture their economic value.

Like so many other Obama Administration climate change initiatives, this is just one more case of policy driven by ideology and illusion. The certitude which has existed since 1989on climate change has continually been eroded by each five year science assessment by the IPCC. The flaws in its models become ever more evident and the real world refuses to conform to its model driven projections. The most recent report should be reason for humility and reassessment, not doubling down. The right policy to be pursued given our state of knowledge and knowing that climate changes. independent of the cause, should be to invest in technology and making sure our economy and the systems it depends on have adaptive resilience.

This article appeared on the National Journal’s Energy Insiders weblog at

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