The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week reduced its estimate of how much methane is released during oil and natural gas production in a move that drew both praise and criticism from the energy industry.
Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. praised the new findings, but said they did not go far enough.
“The announcement is really good news for the country. We're glad to see it,” said Bill Whitsitt, Devon's vice president of regulatory affairs. “But there is still more refinement to be done. We're confident the EPA will soon say they have still been overestimating by a significant degree.”
The new EPA report said industry efforts to reduce emissions have resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, down about 20 percent from previous estimates.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.
While burned methane produces fewer emissions than coal or oil, methane released into the atmosphere is considered to be a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Whitsitt agreed that oil and natural gas producers have improved their processes and reduced emissions, but he said this week's EPA report revises data in only two of 33 categories.
The EPA still is overestimating the amount of methane released during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and well completion, Whitsitt said.
“We met with the EPA last week and continue to provide them with additional data,” he said. “Hopefully in the not-to-distant future, you will see an additional announcement out of the EPA.”
While there is disagreement as to how much methane is released through oil and natural gas operations, producers and regulators both show the industry improving.
Besides the environmental benefits, producers also benefit economically from reducing methane leaks.
“That's our product,” Chesapeake Energy Corp. spokesman Michael Kehs said. “We want to bring our product to market for the benefit of our customers and our shareholders.”