Methane scare 
is evaporating

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As today’s Daily Sentinel editorial (“Methane scare evaporating”) suggests, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) may be “safer” – at least as to uncontrolled methane releases – than ardent environmentalists have contended.  However, to dismiss the concerns of anti-fracking activists as a “canard” grossly overstates the conclusiveness of the cited study.  Nevertheless, it is indeed refreshing that the debate is now being informed by scientific evidence.

Meanwhile, Dennis Webb’s accompanying report (“Energy firm fined $50,000 for pit violations at fatality site”) clearly suggests that oil & gas operations aren’t nearly as “safe” as “some folks have led us to believe”, that the industry still cannot be trusted to voluntarily control the many “potential environmental hazards associated with drilling and fracking” and/or to comply with existing rules, and thus that rigorous enforcement of common-sense evidence-based regulations remains imperative.

As Dennis Webb likewise reported (“Gas drillers leery of redrawn maps for protection of wildlife”), the oil & gas industry continues to resist common-sense regulations based on scientific evidence pertinent to its legal responsibility to minimize impacts on wildlife.  Thus, it is premature to allow the “good news” about methane to induce complacency.

Moreover, the Daily Sentinel remains increasingly remiss in failing to call for repeal of the so-called “Halliburton Exception” to the Safe Drinking Water Act – which legally exempts “fracking” from the stricter regulatory scrutiny to which it would otherwise be legally subjected if properly regulated as “underground injection wells”.

Every time the industry touts its “safety” – and every time scientific evidence lends some credence to such assertions – the rationale for exempting “fracking” from long-standing and well-established environmental laws (including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts) becomes less convincing.

And, as anecdotal evidence continues to accumulate that self-serving industry assertions merit less deference than claimed, the rationale for ending fracking’s dubiously unique exemptions becomes more compelling.

Whoops…not so fast

“Some of these wells, called “super-emitters,” are more likely than others to emit large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

These wells would be the black marks among stringently well-maintained well pads. And these facilities could decide whether natural gas, a fossil fuel that is primarily methane, will be a bridge to a post-carbon future.
“The super-emitters are lost in a study released this week by scientists at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EnergyWire, Sept. 17). The researchers surveyed 190 natural gas production sites—a small fraction of the total wells that will be drilled this year—for emissions during various drilling events. They found that upstream natural gas drilling sites emit 0.42 percent of the gas produced. That number is comparable to U.S. EPA’s estimate of 0.47 percent.

The 0.42 percent is the average of a bunch of good actors but not necessarily representative of the real world, Sweeney cautioned.

He compared the exercise to doing a Nielsen survey, in which a poll worker calls 100 people to see how much television they watch. The worker would miss someone in the mountains without a phone who is watching 24 hours of television a day.

“You got your average from those 100, but you are missing the big guys,” he said.”

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