Clean Air Task Force

Shortcut Navigation:
Switch Styles:

Curb Methane Emissions

July 23rd, 2012 by Jonathan Banks, Senior Climate Policy Advisor, and Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director

This posting originally appeared in the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Experts blog.

For several weeks now the public and the media have cast increasing attention on Arctic oil and gas drilling, specifically regarding the plans of Shell to explore in the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska. This is, pardon the pun, only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Arctic oil and gas development. Around the Arctic, efforts are ramping up in Russia, Norway, Greenland and Canada to stake a claim to one of the last great reserves of undiscovered oil and gas. According to the United States Geological Survey, the Arctic holds one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural gas; 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Read the rest of this entry »

Arctic drilling Must Protect the Climate

April 30th, 2012 by Jonathan Banks, Senior Climate Policy Advisor, and Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director

This posting originally appeared in the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Experts blog.

Two years ago the world turned its attention to the Gulf of Mexico and the tragedy that was unfolding there, with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. This disaster brought a reinvigorated focus to the safety of offshore drilling, but the term safety must now be understood to not just cover spills and leaks, but also the impacts that drilling has on the climate, especially when done in the fragile environment of the Arctic.

It is well understood that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion in our cars and power plants are responsible for the majority of earth’s global warming. Less appreciated, though, is that methane emissions account for nearly half as much of the warming we are currently experiencing as carbon dioxide. The oil and natural gas industries are the largest source of methane emissions from the US. Oil and gas extraction can also be significant sources of black carbon, another potent climate pollutant.
Read the rest of this entry »

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Public Transit Buses: Diesel or CNG?

March 12th, 2012 by Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director

Recently, Pittsburgh’s mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, announced that his city would buy four new garbage trucks fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) rather than diesel because, among other reasons, it would improve local air quality. Like Pittsburgh, many municipalities are dealing with an aging fleet of vehicles and weighing the environmental and economic costs associated with updating their fleet.

CATF commissioned a study on the environmental impacts of both new diesel and new CNG transit buses that concluded that while both have much smaller negative environmental impacts than the older buses currently in use, a new CNG bus is not necessarily better for air quality or climate impact than a new diesel bus. Specifically, the study found that while new CNG buses may have marginally lower particulate matter and volatile organic compound emissions, they may have higher greenhouse gas and nitrogen oxide emissions. Additionally, CNG engines are simply less efficient than diesel engines at traveling the same distance, which must be taken into account.
Read the rest of this entry »

Decarbonization: The Nuclear Option

February 14th, 2012 by Mike Fowler, Energy Technology Consultant, and Armond Cohen, Executive Director

This posting originally appeared in the National Journal’s Energy & Environment Experts blog.

Three years ago, MIT’s Richard Lester published a simple analysis of what would be required to meet President Obama’s 83%-by-2050 greenhouse gas emission reduction target. The results were stark: Even if energy efficiency were to improve at rates 50% better than historical averages, and biofuels were able to meaningfully reduce transportation emissions in the near term (a proposition with which we disagree), meeting Obama’s goal would require retrofitting every existing coal plant in the country with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), building twice again that much fossil capacity with CCS, building close to 3,000 wind farms the size of Massachusetts’ Cape Wind, and building nearly 4,000 solar farms the size of California’s Ivanpah. And, having done all that, increasing the amount of nuclear power we generate by a factor of five.
Read the rest of this entry »

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Ice and Oil; Oil and Ice

October 17th, 2011 by Ellen Baum, Senior Scientist

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

Last month, U.S. scientists confirmed that the Arctic has lost the second highest annual amount of ice since monitoring began. Of the remaining ice, much more is thinner, single-year ice resulting from melting and refreezing during the year. Older, thicker multi-year ice has declined by 60% over the past 30 years.

If Arctic summer sea ice continues to melt at its current rate, we will be presented with significant opportunities to harvest more oil and gas from new sources in the Arctic. Indeed, 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil might be under Arctic ice, as might 30% of undiscovered natural gas. So, Arctic nations are lining up to get at those reserves. So the formula looks simple: less ice = more oil and more gas. And, as those resources are harvested and consumed, we expect the resulting rise in CO2, methane and other climate-forcing emissions will mean even less sea ice.
Read the rest of this entry »