The best arguments are guided by unbiased data and based on sound conclusions. Skewed data, overplayed results, and gross speculation does not inspire trust or faith in a researcher and leaves a reader guessing as to what else is being withheld.
A recent economic analysis on the cost of methane abatement by a natural gas industry group, One Future, inspires not only questions of the study’s validity, but also of the group’s motivation for publishing a clearly inconclusive study. With board members from gas production companies such as Apache and Hess Corps, it’s of no shock the report broke from several other scientific studies to find the cost to reduce methane emissions is substantially higher than previously thought and will cause a severe economic burden on many oil and gas producers.
However, if red herring are what One Future intended to catch with this insider report, they’ve caught their bag limit. Of many apparent examples in this report, here are a few we’ve found to be the fishiest:
Red Herring #1: The study uses outdated emissions estimates that are substantially lower than current data suggest
- The researchers used oil and gas emissions estimates that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently reported are 27% lower than current estimates. Over the past few years, EPA has started including estimates of additional emissions sources that were previously ignored. Choosing to knowingly use underestimated emission values for the study resulted in a nearly 40% decrease to the estimated benefits of capturing emissions. Even more disturbing, additional large sources of methane emissions are still not included in EPA’s estimates, and because of which, EPA recently admitted that methane emissions are likely 25 to 75% higher than are currently estimated.
Red Herring #2: The study uses inflated estimates for the costs of compliance.
- As states like Colorado have led the county in adopting methane waste rules, we have a few preliminary data that suggest the cost of compliance for oil and gas producers. As Will Allison, director of Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division, recently stated regarding the 2014 regulations, “We really haven’t heard concerns about the cost or any difficulty associated with implementation.” A recent study by the Center for Methane Emissions Solutions, a coalition of methane mitigation companies, reported that 7 out of 10 oil and gas companies believes the benefits of Colorado’s regulations outweigh the costs.
- Perhaps most concerning, One Future’s study admittingly used cost data that their own members contrived, stating “Additional cost information was provided by One Future members.” The report also acknowledges that commonly used EPA and Colorado leak detection and repair time estimates “have been criticized as too long,” but then states, “ICF added additional time for training relative to the Colorado analysis.” At least, One Future openly acknowledges the absurd subjectivity of their data and the values they chose to include in their analyses.
Red Herring #3: The study understates the benefits of reducing methane waste.
- The proposed EPA and Bureau of Land Management methane waste rules require semi-annual or quarterly inspections and repair of leaks for equipment. One Future’s report only estimates the amount of gas captured from an annual leak inspection/repair schedule, reducing by 20% the estimated effect on methane emissions. Furthermore, the study only considers the reduction to methane emissions from select sectors of the oil and gas industry, ignoring others which the EPA considers to contribute significantly to annual US methane emission estimate.
For taxpayers, communities, and states, the economic benefit of adopting methane waste rules is crystal clear: millions and millions will be generated each year in revenue and royalties. However, oil and gas producers will need to be more accountable for the publicly owned resources they waste, which is apparently incentive enough for a gas coalition group to use misleading data and shoddy statistics to mislead readers in an attempt to advance an economic agenda.
Instead of fishing in unfamiliar waters, One Future should stick to what it does: “Identify policy and technical solutions that yield continuous improvement in the management of methane emissions…” BLM’s methane waste rule would be one such policy.