Climate change and natural gas dynamic governance.

Author:Burleson, Elizabeth
Position:II. Climate Governance Follow-Through A. United States Federal Coordination? through Conclusion: Dynamic Governance Recommendations, with footnotes, p. 1246-1277 - The Law and Policy of Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing the Issues of the Natural Gas Boom

While this takes a clear snapshot, it remains a snapshot that, like economic models, provides great clarity but finite scope. For instance, it remains murky what natural gas emissions occur in processes not covered by this rule (for example, either because data is not required for operations generating less than 25,000 metric tons of C[O.sub.2]e or because natural gas emissions are a byproduct of another energy development process). Worrisome information gaps remain with regard to natural gas leakage from the Arctic generally as the climate destabilizes, aggregate emissions from hydropower as vegetation releases methane from the bottom of artificial lakes, or from fossil fuel production processes that accidentally or by design emit natural gas as a byproduct, (91)

The EPA explains that:

For fractured and refractured gas wells, the rule generally requires owners/operators to use reduced emissions completions, also known as "RECs" or "green completions," to reduce VOC emissions from well completions. To achieve these VOC reductions, owners and/or operators may use RECs or completion combustion devices, such as flaring, until January 1, 2015; as of January 1, 2015, owners and/or operators must use RECs and a completion combustion device. The rule does not require RECs where their use is not feasible, as specified in the rule. (92) While the timeframe of implementation is now a moving target, this is a prudent first step in genuinely minimizing natural gas emissions in the face of imminent or surpassed climate tipping points. After deliberation with industry and other stakeholders, the EPA balanced concerns by having the requirement commence in 2015 so that equipment supply chains can smoothly meet demand for green completion technology. Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming already require green completions, as does Fort Worth, Texas. (93) Once such state and local governance best practices are shared through governance networks, first instance technical expertise may be less important than general knowledge of industry best practices combined with incentives to advance technologies in ways that continue to be best practices in economic, social, and environmental contexts.

The natural gas boom has been an education in mining technology for many members of the general public concerned with health and environmental impacts. It helps to have cooperation among the drilling, health, and ecosystem services communities to identify and share optimal technical options including: "desiccant dehydrators to reduce emissions during dehydration of wet gas; improved compressor maintenance to reduce emissions during processing; hot taps in maintenance of pipelines during transmission; and vapor recovery units to reduce emissions during storage. (94) Responding to Oliver Houck's University of Oregon Human Rights and Environment Symposium challenge that singing Kumbaya is not enough, (95) it is important to emphasize that state and non-state coordination does not end with cooperative agreements as evidenced by the EPA/industry agreement that benzene would not be used in hydraulic fracturing. Non-binding agreements may sufficiently bind corporate responsibility and initiate innovative break out solution generation through shared insights. Yet they do not do all the heavy lifting. (96)

EPA's Natural Gas Star program has successfully gathered industry best practices and shared innovations to reduce methane emissions. This program recognized that methane emissions reduction is extremely important for health and environmental integrity, not to mention profitable, and significant headway has been made to bring best practices into broad commercial viability. Yet as NRDC notes, "Existing market forces, government regulations, and voluntary programs are only leading to the capture of a small percentage methane emissions at present." (97) EPA's Natural Gas STAR Program estimates 50 percent of its oil and gas methane mitigation to green completions. (98) Only 20 percent of U.S. gas well emissions are capture through green completions so far. (99)

NRDC has identified the following technologies that can reduce over 80 percent of the petroleum and natural gas sector's methane emissions if used industry wide:

1. Green Completions to capture oil and gas well emissions

2. Plunger Lift Systems or other well deliquification methods to mitigate gas well emissions

3. Tri-Ethylene Glycol (TEG) Dehydrator Emission Controls to capture emissions from dehydrators

4. Desiccant Dehydrators to capture emissions from dehydrators

5. Dry Seal Systems to reduce emissions from centrifugal compressor seals

6. Improved Compressor Maintenance to reduce emissions from reciprocating compressors

7. Low-Bleed or No-Bleed Pneumatic Controllers used to reduce emissions from control devices

8. Pipeline Maintenance and Repair to reduce emissions from pipelines

9. Vapor Recovery Units used to reduce emissions from storage tanks

10. Leak Monitoring and Repair to control fugitive emissions from valves, flanges, seals, connections and other equipment (100)

NRDC projects that green completions and plunger lift systems alone can reduce almost 40 percent of methane emissions. (101) Where gas pipelines are too far away, green completion capturing of natural gas can enhance the local affordable power supply, on site power generation, and well performance through reinjection. (102) While the trend is towards increasingly treating methane as a valued resource, the EPA will not require green completions for "[n]ew exploratory ('wildcat') wells or delineation wells (used to define the borders of a natural gas reservoir), because they are not near a pipeline to bring the gas to market" or for "[h]ydraulically fractured low-pressure wells, where natural gas cannot be routed to the gathering line. Operators may use a simple formula based on well depth and well pressure to determine whether a well is a low-pressure well." (103) The EPA estimates that 10 percent of hydraulically fractured wells are low pressure. (104)

It appears to be a chicken and egg problem to ask whether smaller hydraulic fracturing and related unconventional natural gas operations need to report given the lack of monitoring of fugitive natural gas to date. At the ends of the spectrum, very large and very small entities can safely estimate whether reporting is compulsory given the 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent threshold. It is not clear how many entities will underreport or fail to report due to a lack of information on actual natural gas emissions from their operations. While not a satisfying conclusion, an important first step in this context would be robust field analysis of actual greenhouse gas emissions to determine whether few, half, or most hydraulic fracturing operations fall into this reporting requirement. What is clear is that all operations beyond the United States do not have to report to the EPA, yet many such entities are beginning to model their natural gas initiatives on U.S. unconventional natural gas approaches. If this is done globally, absent reporting and mitigation requirements, then the natural gas sector will mushroom as a climate destabilization driver. At present, "[g]lobal warming pollution from natural gas systems accounts for approximately 4 percent of U.S. emissions." (105)

To my mind, incentivizing natural gas system methane reductions is one of the best ways to achieve near term climate mitigation. Under section 111 of the Clean Air Act (106) for new and existing natural gas systems, the EPA can incentivize the minimization of natural gas emissions by cooperatively implementing, monitoring, and enforcing methane and related pollutant (for example, VOC) emissions performance standards. The EPA made an important first stride with its 2012 petroleum and natural gas ruling. Just as regulating mercury (107) can have the ancillary benefit of reducing coal mine methane emissions that amounted roughly to 1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, (108) regulating VOCs can reduce natural gas emission impacts on climate change. The impact on human health from VOCs is more directly understood and attributable to natural gas systems. This perhaps explains why the EPA has sought to enact volatile organic compound rules for natural gas systems and has yet to directly regulate methane as a greenhouse gas. (109) The EPA could also address coal mine natural gas emissions directly under section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

In conjunction with federal incentives, state energy-climate-water laboratories can model different approaches to coordination to reduce greenhouse gases through energy innovations. State collaborative models include the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), (110) while the California Assembly Bill 32 (111) and individual state renewable portfolio standards that twenty-nine states have established can be looked to as a threshold below which federal momentum on renewables and efficiency should not descend. (112) It remains an open question as to what degree the hydraulic fracturing revolution has impeded state-federal cooperative federalism capacity to meet and implement renewable portfolio standards. We need more than rhetoric to facilitate a transition to renewables and greater efficiency. Federal power is powerful in the energy context. (113) Federalism comes in many shapes and sizes (for example, national speed limits and federal lights-out decrees). (114) Similarly, states and substate governments can utilize the state police powers to strengthen state and local building codes mindful of climate-energy-water synergies. Within the realm of health, safety, morals, and general welfare lies a realm of state governance capacity that can fold into federal and non-state actor initiatives. Utilizing this capacity can perhaps allow us to forgo lengthy and resource-consuming efforts to hash out federal and individual rights that often overlap with state...

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