Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said last week her agency will soon unveil new regulations for oil and natural gas production designed to reduce emissions of methane.
We’re watching closely because methane emissions are already falling – and dramatically so – making for one of the most profound and heartening environmental stories in recent years.
The numbers are striking. As the agency’s own Greenhouse Gas Reporting program shows, since 1990, U.S. methane emissions have fallen 16.9 percent.
That drop is even more impressive if you consider that the overall size of the U.S. economy is far bigger today than a quarter century ago, and we produce more natural gas than we did then. The latter point is significant because methane leaks from oil and natural gas production are considered to be among the largest contributors to overall methane emissions.
But as they say on TV, “Wait, there’s more!”
The bulk of the emissions reductions have come over the last decade, precisely the same period that domestic oil and natural gas production from America’s shale and tight oil regions has been soaring.
Two charts from Energy in Depth tell the tale. The one above shows that since 2008, U.S. natural gas production from shale has nearly quadrupled, but overall methane emissions have declined 14.3 percent.
Let that sink in for a minute: Natural gas production is up – way up – yet overall methane emissions are down.
The reason this is happening is fairly obvious to those familiar with the history of oil and natural gas production in the United States: As it has been doing for a century-and-a-half, our industry is continually improving the processes and increasing the efficiency with which we produce the nation’s energy.
That has particularly been the case during the shale revolution.
Learning as they have pioneered, producers have become far more efficient in drilling for oil and natural gas and bringing it to the surface for processing and distribution. These improvements have gone hand-in-hand with industry initiatives to seek ways to reduce emissions. The chart below shows how these gains are being realized across the nation’s top producing basins.
Industry-led efforts to reduce emissions obviously are bearing fruit, with levels far lower today than EPA predicted several years ago.
Given such success, one has to wonder why EPA feels the need to regulate and increase the cost of a process that is already delivering in spades.