The Environmental Protection Agency just rewrote history.
Citing a “new-and-improved” methodology, the agency has revised its calculations of our country’s total annual methane emissions for several previous years. Now, the official record shows emissions at distressingly high levels.
Distressing, that is, if this revision were justified.
But it’s not.
This new formula is driven by a political agenda, purposefully ignoring that methane levels are plummeting thanks largely to innovations in energy production.
Last year, the EPA reported that methane emissions had fallen by about 10 percent from 2005 to 2013. And emissions specifically generated from “fracking” — the practice of blasting high-pressured water mixtures into underground rock formations to loosen up natural gas deposits — dropped a whopping 79 percent.
Under this new formula, though, it appears methane emissions actually increased by about 1 percent over that same period — and rose again in 2014. Moreover, this formula calculates that oil and gas producers are America’s largest methane polluters.
There are several reasons to doubt new figures.
First, the EPA based its analysis on outdated measurements, some of which were developed back in the 1990s. And, the EPA used emissions data from the largest methane sources to estimate emissions from smaller sources of methane. This shady sleight of hand dramatically inflated overall figures.
Second, the timing is unusually politically convenient. The agency just released tighter rules on methane emissions, and having a record of higher emissions will certainly help justify that cause.
Third, the energy industry makes for an easy enemy.
The biggest sources of methane emissions worldwide are actually agriculture and livestock, which account for 33 percent of all methane emissions. Another 29 percent comes from the natural release of methane from sources such as swamps, oceans, termites and volcanoes. Just 19 percent of methane emissions come from energy production.
The EPA hasn’t yet figured out how to rein in cow flatulence or put a lid on volcanoes. And regulations targeting farmers would risk huge public blowback. That leaves regulators with just one viable target: the energy industry.
But attacking the oil and gas industry is a mistake. The nation’s energy sector is actually helping reduce harmful emissions. Since 1990, natural gas production has increased by 37 percent, while greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 17 percent. That’s because natural gas is replacing more polluting forms of energy like coal — which emits about twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced.
Energy companies are now pushing for more natural gas exports, which will help reduce worldwide coal usage and slash overall emissions.
What’s more, the industry has invested $90 billion in low-carbon energy technologies since 2000. That investment is more than double any other industry — and it’s almost as much as the federal government itself has invested in clean energy.
Using shaky statistics to demonize oil and gas is foolish. If the EPA is serious about lowering methane emissions, it should treat the energy industry as an ally — not an enemy — in protecting the planet.
Drew Johnson, Senior Fellow
Taxpayers Protection Alliance