The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is formally petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to reassess estimates of the potent greenhouse gas methane and other pollution from oil-and-gas drilling sites, alleging they’re far too high.
The powerful business group filed a petition Monday under the Data Quality Act, a brief statute buried inside a appropriations bill passed in 2000 that gives outside parties an avenue to seek changes in federal data.
The granular debate about emissions data has high stakes for the oil-and-gas industry. The petition alleges that EPA estimates, which the Chamber calls inflated, have “crept into multiple rulemakings and across agencies over the course of the past two years.”
The Chamber’s petition echoes concerns among natural gas companies that EPA is overstating the emissions from wells developed using the technique called hydraulic fracturing.
EPA “erroneously overestimates methane emissions, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from gas wells by orders of magnitude,” the petition states.
Gas advocates fear the EPA data could erode the conventional wisdom that natural gas is a climate-friendly alternative to coal and oil. They worry it would influence planned EPA rules to cut toxic, smog-forming emissions from oil-and-gas sites as well.
“Researchers, financial analysts and other governmental bodies have relied on EPA’s flawed estimates of natural gas emissions from unconventional shale gas well completions in a number of research reports and policy consideration,” the petition states. “Those concerned about overall global climate change policy see the revised EPA methane emission numbers as calling into question the emissions benefits to using natural gas.”
Already, a contrarian paper this year by Cornell University researchers cited the EPA data to claim that when methane from well sites is considered, it’s enough to negate the lower emissions that gas creates when compared to burning coal for power.
An Energy Department advisory panel in a recent report on the environmental footprint of natural gas produced through hydraulic fracturing noted that the Cornell conclusion is “not widely accepted.”
But the panel nonetheless said more data on the impact of the gas development are needed. The Cornell paper has come under heavy fire from the oil-and-gas industry.