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China’s Shale Gas Potential is No Panacea for China’s Coal Demand

May 22nd, 2013 by Jonathan Banks, Senior Climate Policy Advisor, and Ming Sung, Chief Representative, Asia-Pacific

The recent boom in shale gas in the United States has led to a host of outcomes that many did not see coming.  The massive quantities of natural gas, combined with traditional gas production, that this boom has brought to market has dropped the price of natural gas dramatically.  So the low price of gas, combined with a surplus of underutilized gas-fired power plants and very old, inefficient coal-fired power plants, has resulted in a reduction in coal-fired power generation.  This of course is being applauded for its air quality benefits as well as its potential climate benefits, but that depends of course on how much methane is coming out of the natural gas system.
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Reducing the Shale Gas Footprint Through the Center for Sustainable Shale Development: A Good Start, But No Substitute for Tight Federal and State Regulation

March 22nd, 2013 by Armond Cohen, Executive Director

photoThis week, CATF joined three Pennsylvania environmental organizations – the Pittsburgh-area  Group against Smog and Pollution, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, as well as the Environmental Defense Fund, in endorsing a set of fifteen water and air protection standards we developed with several large shale gas producers in the Marcellus region: Chevron, Shell, EQT and CONSOL. Also endorsing the standards were the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments, the William Penn Foundation, and several independent parties, including former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, former EPA head Christie Whitman, Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon, and Jane Long, an academic expert on climate and subsurface risk management.
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Fracking and Geologic Carbon Storage Can Safely Coexist

June 7th, 2012 by Bruce Hill, Senior Geologist

A recent paper by Princeton researchers published in Environmental Science and Technology questions the compatibility of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and geologic carbon storage and has received an unwarranted amount of attention. Despite the conclusions of the paper, the overwhelming evidence suggests that geologic storage can indeed coexist safely with other subsurface activities, including oil and gas extraction and shale gas operations. Here’s why:
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New Rules for Gas: Good Policy, Delayed

April 24th, 2012 by Darin Schroeder, Associate Attorney, Ann Weeks, Senior Counsel and Legal Director, and David McCabe, Atmospheric Scientist

This posting originally appeared in the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Expert Blog.

Last week, EPA announced New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for the oil and natural gas industry. These new rules are an important and long-awaited step towards better control of the air pollution emitted by this rapidly expanding sector.

Notably, the standards include the first federal air pollution regulations for hydraulically fractured (fracked) natural gas wells. That, plus new regulation of other equipment in this industry, represents significant progress in combating air pollution, especially as forecasts project increasing reliance on natural gas for generating electricity. Without these rules, air pollution from new gas wells and equipment would continue to increase; now the industry must begin to clean up nationwide. Once the rule finally goes into full effect, VOC emissions, a precursor of ground-level smog, will be reduced by hundreds of thousands of tons per year; toxic chemicals like benzene will be reduced by 12,000 – 20,000 tons per year. And, as a co-benefit of the pollution control measures needed to achieve the new standards, emissions of methane will be reduced by 1.0 – 1.7 million tons a year. This rule therefore eventually will provide significant air quality and climate benefits.
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Memo To EPA: Stay Strong On Oil and Gas Standards

April 11th, 2012 by David McCabe, Atmospheric Scientist, and Ann Weeks, Senior Counsel and Legal Director

Next week, EPA will issue final New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for conventional air emissions from the oil and natural gas industry. The standards must require the capture of hundreds of thousands of tons of smog-forming emissions emitted annually by this industry, along with millions of tons of methane.

Methane – the primary component of natural gas – is both a valuable fuel and a potent pollutant, 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a driver of climate change over a 100-year period. The methane emissions from U.S. oil and gas operations warm global climate as much as 16% of all the CO2 from U.S. coal-fired power plants. With a strong rule, those emissions will be cut by a quarter, so EPA clearly has an excellent opportunity to begin to address this dangerous climate pollutant.
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Many climate decisions ahead for EPA

January 25th, 2012 by Armond Cohen, Executive Director

This posting originally appeared in the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Expert Blog.

photoWhatever the symbolic importance of the Keystone XL decision, it is only one of several climate-related policy decisions facing the Administration this year – and arguably one of the less significant ones. The Environmental Impact Statement on the project produced by the U.S. Department of State estimates that stopping the pipeline would avoid between 3 and 21 MMT CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually. While environmental commenters have suggested that this estimate may understate these benefits, they haven’t yet provided alternatives.
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Zero Emissions from Natural Gas?

January 17th, 2012 by Armond Cohen, Executive Director

This posting originally appeared in the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Expert Blog.

photoWith the global explosion of unconventional gas production, reports of the death of the fossil fuel economy are, to paraphrase Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. Gas may not stay at its current extraordinarily low price, but the market landscape seems to be altered for quite some time.

The explosion of low-cost shale gas reserves is a two-edged climate sword. Generating electricity with gas is 30 to 50 percent less carbon-intensive than coal when leaks and releases of methane, the main component of natural gas, are accounted for. (For other uses like vehicle fuel, we haven’t seen any evidence that gas is better than other fossil fuels, and if vehicles leak even a small amount, natural gas could be worse than gasoline). But even for electricity, gas is still a high-carbon fuel: replacing all coal-fired generation with gas would get us only part of the way to the 80 percent CO2 reduction needed by mid-century. Moreover, new gas plants are more likely to displace new zero-carbon generation sources than to displace existing cheap coal plants. Carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere stays there, causing warming, for many centuries. By some estimates, the amount of CO2 already emitted has committed the world to warming in excess of 2 degrees Celsius, which is well outside human experience; to hold the increase to 3-4 degrees might well require zeroing out carbon emissions by mid-century.
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Methane from Oil and Gas: Low-hanging Fruit that EPA Must Pick

December 5th, 2011 by David McCabe, Atmospheric Scientist

November 30th was the last day for public comments on EPA’s proposal to significantly update air emissions limits for most of the oil and natural gas industry.  The proposal makes much-needed revisions to existing requirements, which in some cases are over 25 years old, and in expanding the coverage of these rules, recognizes the significant changes and expansion in the industry that has taken place since the rules were issued.   The proposed rules make real progress in advancing cleanup for some of the biggest sources of pollution from the industry, but they do not go anywhere near far enough to curb the wholesale dumping of methane and other pollutants into the air.
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Natural Gas: Palliative, Not a Cure

April 29th, 2011 by Armond Cohen, Executive Director

Plentiful and cheap natural gas is the Prozac of American energy policy. It may take the edge off of some of our worst symptoms in the near term. But it can also dull us to solving key long term and chronic problems, especially regarding climate change. And, as with any medication, there can also be some negative side-effects – some clearly remediable (methane leaks), and some (water and air contamination impacts from fracturing – or “fracking” – of shale to yield gas) still to be managed with sufficient rigor and transparency.

On the positive side, there is little doubt that cheap natural gas can help provide some environmental relief in the short term by lowering the cost of displacing older coal-fired electric generation. Natural gas power plants emit less than half of the CO2 per kilowatt-hour as do those powered by coal; the emissions reduction gains are even greater for conventional pollutants like smog and soot and for air toxics like mercury. True, upstream leaks of methane (a far more potent global warmer than CO2) are a source of greenhouse gas pollution that cuts into the climate advantages of burning natural gas. But these leaks can be virtually eliminated, and the gas industry needs to focus a lot more on fixing them, and less on insisting that we should only consider climate impacts over a full century (which de-emphasizes the importance of the methane leaks, relative to the CO2 advantages of gas over coal, because CO­2 lasts longer in the atmosphere).
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