FORT COLLINS — The oil-and-gas industry is doing a better job of monitoring and fixing methane leaks in their drilling and production operations, but much more needs to be done.
That was the message from Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the keynote speaker Tuesday at the fifth annual Natural Gas Symposium at Colorado State University.
Krupp, who’s led the EDF since 1984, said fugitive emissions of methane from oil-and-gas operations in Colorado and across the nation are a challenge for the industry and everyone affected by climate change.
“We know methane is causing 25 percent of the global warming that’s happening today,” Krupp told a full room of attendees at the conclusion of the first day of a two-day conference hosted by CSU and the Center for the New Energy Economy, established in 2011 and headed by former Colorado governor Bill Ritter.
Krupp, a leading voice in the global environmental movement, said the oil-and-gas industry is becoming more environmentally responsible but still has room to improve.
Krupp said the recent downturn in the price of oil and natural gas is being seen by some as an excuse not to do more to fix methane leaks inherent in hydraulic fracture drilling, or fracking.
“The risk of the low prices should not be a rationale to not fix the industry’s plumbing,” he said.
Krupp said in 2012 the EDF began the biggest science project ever undertaken by an environmental group to study the methane leakage problem. He said more than 100 academic institutions, think tanks and industry groups have been involved.
The result was an unprecedented level of cooperation by the oil-and-gas industry in getting to the facts of methane leakage and efforts by the industry to reduce those leaks.
Krupp had words of praise for that effort.
“Clearly, the industry is capable of delivering the right kinds of innovations when they’re called on,” he said.
While the project has showed some fracking concerns were overstated, Krupp said a recent CSU study found that oil-and-gas gathering facilities were actually emitting about eight times the amount of emissions than previously thought.
Worldwide, Krupp said about 3.5 trillion cubic feet of methane escaped into the atmosphere last year.
And while most environmental observers agree that cutting the use of coal – the most notorious of the fossil fuels contributing to global climate change – is a good thing to pursue, a focused reduction in methane emissions offers the more rapid positive result.
“It turns out that cutting methane emissions is the fastest and easiest way to affect climate change,” Krupp said.
Krupp said more vigorous monitoring, detecting and repairing of methane leaks in oil-and-gas operations also has a financial reward for drilling companies by saving them money on lost income from methane leaks.
Krupp noted that the culture is moving toward a more aggressive stance on combating climate change, with young people in particular advocating for cleaner energy sources.
Krupp also noted that previous resistance to aggressive action on the part of the U.S. to do something about climate change because China was not taking action is no longer persuasive.
“We’ve been told that we can’t do anything until China acts, but now China is doing something,” he said, referring to recent climate agreements reached between China and the U.S.
“”China is doing this very much in their own self-interest to address pollution and their energy needs,” Krupp said, “and the great wall of (U.S.) partisanship on this issue is starting to come down.”
Krupp said a recent poll showed 59 percent of those identifying as Republicans saying climate change is real and 76 percent of Americans overall.
While some states – including Colorado – have taken actions supporting policies to fight climate change, other states have so far done little, Krupp said.
“We need policies at the federal level to make best practices standard practices,” he said. Krupp said in August the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first regulations on methane emissions. But it was only a baby step, he noted, as the proposed regulations would only affect new gas wells and not existing ones.
Krupp encouraged the oil-and-gas industry to continue working with environmental groups to clean up methane emissions and to invest in innovations and new technology to accomplish that work.
Krupp pointed out that the oil-and-gas industry is spending billions every year on their operations, while methane leak reduction would cost millions by comparison.
“The solutions we’re talking about do cost money, but they’re cheap and they’re getting cheaper,” he said, noting the cost of compliance is about one-third of 1 percent of what the companies are spending.
“Engage constructively with us to get national (methane) regulations,” Krupp said. “Work with us to engage the EPA and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) to get us over the finish line.”
The 2015 Natural Gas Symposium concludes today with a full day of panel discussions on issues that include clean air and water assurance, resolving conflicts between state and federal policies, CSU-driven projects, workplace and public safety related to oil-and-gas activities, state vs. local control and developing a vision for sustainability.
The symposium is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.naturalgas.colostate.edu.