EPA: Higher reported GHG totals from oil, gas in 2014 came from more sites

Petroleum and natural gas systems remained the second-largest greenhouse gas emitting group as the US Environmental Protection Agency released its 2014 summary of reported emissions on Oct. 6. But it quickly became hard to determine how much of the nearly 3.5% increase in the group’s total emissions increase from 2013 was because the number of reporting facilities had grown 10.3% year-to-year.

The group’s latest full-year results were complicated further by the fact that its total reported emissions of methane, one of three GHGs tracked in reporting from 2,405 facilities nationwide, actually dropped by 5.4% to 73 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) in 2014 from 77.2 million in 2013.

CO2 was solely responsible for the group’s total emissions increase as its numbers rose 8.1% to 163 million tCO2e in 2014 from 150.8 million tCO2e a year earlier. Nitrous oxide, the third air pollutant, was unchanged for a fourth consecutive year with a total 100,000 tCO2e.

EPA’s oil and gas GHG reporting group does not include refineries, which have a group of their own. It excludes emissions from on-site petrochemical operations and hydrogen production units as well as industrial waste landfills, wastewater treatment, and biomass.

Its reported GHG emissions rose 0.8% year-to-year to 174.9 million tCO2e in 2014 as its number of reporting facilities decreased by 5 to 141 million tCO2e. Industry group American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers told OGJ that increased capacity likely led to the small increase in refiners’ total reported GHGs. “Also, it is important to note that even with all the new investment in refining, the sector’s emissions are less than 3% of total GHG emissions,” it said.

The oil and gas GHG group’s nine segments largely reported both higher emissions totals and more facilities reporting. Natural gas processing’s emissions increased 600,000 tCO2e year-to-year to 2014’s 59.6 million tCO2e. The number of gas processing facilities that reported climbed by 33 to 520 from 487 in 2013, EPA’s figures showed.

Consistently engages EPA

Matthew Hite, vice-president of government affairs for the Gas Processors Association, said the organization has engaged EPA consistently on rulemakings to reduce GHG emissions from its members’ plants. “While the number of our reporting facilities has increased substantially, it’s important to view this small emissions increase in the larger context of significant growth and the positive impact our efforts to reduce emissions have had already,” he told OGJ.

“In fact, for the most part, you could say that emissions have stayed the same, and even make the argument that they went down, when you factor in the number of new reporting facilities,” Hite said.

The same apparently could be said for onshore production, where the 2014 emissions total of 102.7 million tCO2e represented a 7.9 million tCO2e, or 8.3%, increase—the most among the nine segments—from the previous year. The 61 additional reporting stations were 12.1% more than 2013’s total of 503. Offshore production’s 600,000 tCO2e, or 9.7%, growth to 6.8 million tCO2e of emissions in 2014 came as the number of reporting stations rose year-to-year by 21, or 19.6%, to 128.

The numbers don’t tell the entire production GHG emissions story, experts at the American Petroleum Institute said.

A large part of the 2014 methane emissions occurred as operators completed more wells with advanced technology producing fewer emissions months before the scheduled Jan. 1, 2015, effective date for EPA’s requirement to use such technology, they explained. “So the methane emissions reduction was the result of the industry voluntarily advancing and applying technology,” they told OGJ.

Two more segments—natural gas distribution and natural gas transmission—actually reduced their 2014 GHG emissions by 300,000 tCO2e each from 2013 while increasing the number of reporting facilities.

The American Gas Association said for gas utilities, this reflects a concerted effort to make their distribution pipelines safer, and applications of many efficiencies to keep emissions to as little as 0.1% of total deliveries to end-users nationwide. “In 2013, gas utilities invested $1.15 billion in 112 gas efficiency programs spanning 39 states, and they budgeted more than $1.4 billion for 2014, a projected 25% percent spending increase,” AGA told OGJ.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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