The Environmental Protection Agency has dramatically lowered its estimate of how much of a potent heat-trapping gas leaks during natural gas production, in a shift with major implications for a debate that has divided environmentalists: Does the recent boom in fracking help or hurt the fight against climate change?
Oil and gas drilling companies had pushed for the change, but there have been differing scientific estimates of the amount of methane that leaks from wells, pipelines and other facilities during production and delivery. Methane is the main component of natural gas.
The new EPA data is “kind of an earthquake” in the debate over drilling, said Michael Shellenberger, the president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental group based in Oakland, Calif. “This is great news for anybody concerned about the climate and strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks.”
The EPA credits stricter regulations, but as Erika Johnsen points out, we should not “overlook the overarching role of the free market in inspiring increased efficiency, innovation, and improved technology.”
In this case, producers are already plenty incentivized to keep trying to prevent leakages, since methane leaked into the atmosphere means waste and lost profits — and as the AP mentions, industry experts think that there’s ample and imminent room for still further innovation and improvement.