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Thursday, January 29, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Gov. Tom Wolf reinstates moratorium on further gas leasing of public lands

Great news for Pennsylvania's state forests and state parks. 

In a ceremony at Benjamin Rush State Park in Philadelphia this morning, Governor Wolf reinstated a moratorium on further gas leasing of public lands. The executive order would supersede an executive order signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett last year that overturned a previous ban on further drilling of public lands.

We are pleased to see Gov. Wolf move quickly to protect our state parks and forests from natural gas drilling. These lands are held in the public trust as provided by Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania constitution, and are places where our families gather and play. The governor has wisely chosen to protect the people of Pennsylvania over the profits of drillers.

With the help of PennFuture members and thousands of Pennsylvanians across the state, we kept the pressure on Harrisburg -- and your voices were heard.

The citizens of the Commonwealth have long valued the special places that our award-winning state parks and state forest represent. Gov. Wolf's action today will help preserve those places as it promotes public health.


Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Industry cherry-picks data to downplay methane problem

Our friends at the Allegheny Front provide an excellent "cheat sheet" on President Obama's new methane rules. Not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry opposes the regulations and says self-policing is the answer. (Stop me if you've heard that one before.)

To bolster their position, industry claims that methane emissions are down:
"Industry points to the EPA’s own numbers, which show that, even as oil and gas production has surged, methane emissions have declined by 17 percent."
This is a point that has been made repeatedly by industry types so it's helpful to unpack it -- and set the record straight.

Although Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data shows the industry’s total methane emissions fell 12 percent between 2011 and 2013, emissions from key activities not currently covered by federal standards went up substantially.

Reported declines after 2009 also completely ignore oil well emissions, which account for a substantial share of the sector’s total methane footprint. 

Even those numbers don’t paint the whole picture.

Two other recent national studies suggest EPA’s overall estimates of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are too low by half based on actual methane emissions measured by scientists.


Taken together, there is a body of evidence that shows that methane emissions are a huge problem that needs to be addressed -- which is why EPA's new rules on methane are a solid first step. But much more remains to be done. The good news is that low-cost, high-impact regulations provide an opportunity to help fight climate change, improve air and public health -- and prevent waste of product. The time for action is now.  

Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets @RexBainbridge.


Video: Energy switching in six minutes: Part 1

Pop quiz! Ready?

Who is your electricity supplier?

      A) My local utility
      B) A renewable energy supplier in Pennsylvania 

If you answered B, give yourself a pat on the back. Simply by paying your bill every month, you are helping ensure that Pennsylvanians have clean, healthy air to breathe. Our lungs thank you. 

If you answered A, maybe now is the time to consider making the switch. 

Energy Switching Series,created by Nicole Catino for PennFuture
Much of Pennsylvania's electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, which spew pollution into our air. Unhealthy levels of air pollution in Pennsylvania contribute to asthma, COPD, lung disease and even cancer. 

While individuals and organizations (including PennFuture) work to ensure that our air is protected, you too can take a step to increase clean energy generation. You can choose to buy your electricity from renewable wind and solar sources, right here in Pennsylvania. Want to know more? This three-minute video outlines why energy switching matters.

Valessa Souter-Kline is western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @ValessaSK.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Registration is open for Next Great City's Philadelphia Mayoral Candidates' Forum

Registration opened today for the Next Great City Coalition's Philadelphia Mayoral Candidates' Forum on Tuesday, March 3 from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The event is being held in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Flower Show, “Celebrate the Movies,” and is free and open to the public. Dave Davies of WHYY FM will serve as moderator.

Candidates will address the Next Great City Coalition’s forward-looking 2015 policy agenda that aspires to keep Philadelphia moving toward a future where every neighborhood is healthy, clean, and safe and served by an effective city government.

Philadelphia is on the verge of becoming the Next Great City. To be truly great, Philadelphia needs a new mayor who will lead the city forward with Next Great City 2015's key initiatives, and get us to the finish line on some key initiatives already underway.


Join us for this important event. Register today!


PennFuture is the convener of the Next Great City Coalition, which consists of over 100 civic, environmental, labor and business organizations that have been working in partnership for the betterment of the city since 2007.

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's Philadelphia outreach coordinator. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Feds propose methane rule: Good first step but falls short for PA

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a bold and much-needed step in announcing a goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry 45 percent by 2025 – emissions which are expected to rise more than 25 percent during the period absent action. 

However, for Pennsylvanians, the rule has missed the mark by identifying only new sources and providing no clear pathway for existing sources of emissions. As the fastest growing natural gas producing state in the nation, Pennsylvania has thousands of operating gas wells that are spewing methane into the air and exacerbating climate change – sources that are not addressed in this proposed federal rule. Further, the 10-year time frame is simply too long – Pennsylvanians cannot afford to wait a decade for better air for their kids. Who would wait a decade to plug a gas leak in their house?

Therefore, it is ever more incumbent on Gov.-elect Tom Wolf to demonstrate leadership on this issue. We are calling on Gov.-elect Wolf to launch a rulemaking in his first 100 days to directly regulate methane in Pennsylvania. Voluntary programs are not the answer when only a handful of drillers comply and the bulk of producers do little – or nothing.

Seventy percent of Pennsylvania voters support methane regulations. The technology to address methane emissions is inexpensive and readily available. Our citizens deserve the public health, environmental, and economic benefits that comprehensive methane standards will afford.


Andrew Sharp is PennFuture's director of outreach and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets at @RexBainbridge. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Guest post: Mark Brownstein of EDF sets the record straight on methane emissions

In his blog post this week (reprinted with permission), climate champ Mark Brownstein of the Environmental Defense Fund sets the record straight on methane emissions. An important read.

Dope Deal: Wall Street Journal Falls for Methane “Facts” Cooked by Industry

Source: flickr.com/photos/earthworks

When credibility is your stock in trade, it’s important to have your facts straight. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal blew it.

In an unsigned opinion piece dubbed “Meth Heads in the White House,” the paper dismisses plans expected to be announced by the Obama administration in the next few weeks that would start to tackle the huge amount of methane leaking from America’s oil & gas production facilities.

The question is a significant one, because – as the article notes in passing – methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas (in point of fact, packing more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20 year time frame). According to EPA data, oil & gas operations emit roughly 8 million metric tons of unburned methane annually, enough gas to heat nearly 6 million homes.

While acknowledging the problem, the Journal argues that companies are solving it just fine on their own, citing figures which closely track industry talking points suggesting that emissions are already dropping. Unfortunately, the numbers in question are a blend of half-baked, fully cooked and – in one key instance – flat out wrong.

In their most glaring error, Journal editors cite a University of Texas Study published last month (and partly funded by EDF) to claim that oil & gas industry methane emissions have fallen 10 percent between 2013 and 2014 alone. In fact, as study author David Allen has pointed out, the results, which actually come from two different UT studies, fall squarely within the margin of error and hence show no such change in emission rates.

In other words: No, the UT study does not say what the Journal editors say it says. The paper owes its readers a correction.

As to the idea that methane emissions from oil and gas operations have fallen steadily over time, this too is simply false. In reality, oil & gas industry methane emissions as estimated by the EPA stayed relatively flat between 1990 and 2008, and didn’t begin to decline noticeably until 2009. While part of that was the result of smarter practices by select operators, the bigger driver of the reported decline has been 2012 EPA rules limiting natural gas emissions from an important part of the drilling process known as “well completions.”

We’d say those gains are proof-positive that sound regulation gets results.

Reported declines after 2009 also completely ignore oil well emissions, which account for a substantial share of sector’s total methane footprint. (Part of the reduction also stems from changes in how EPA does its math.)

Even those numbers don’t paint the whole picture.

Although EPA Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data shows the industry’s total methane emissions fell 12 percent between 2011 and 2013, emissions from key activities not currently covered by federal standards went up substantially.

According to the very same UT study cited affectionately by the Journal, average emissions from thousands of pneumatic controllers used to operate valves throughout the supply chain are 17 percent higher than EPA estimates, due to a mixture of both unintended malfunctions and deliberately leaky design. Moreover, UT researchers say real-world emissions from these devices may be twice as high as EPA figures due to systematic undercounting by the agency.

Two other recent national studies not mentioned in the article – but available here and here – suggest EPA’s overall estimates of methane emissions from the oil & gas industry are too low by half, based on actual methane emissions measured by scientists.

The good news, firmly underscored by the UT study, is that a relatively small share of wells and equipment are responsible for a disproportionate piece of the emissions pie. The trick is finding which ones are performing badly, and when. And that is precisely why we need tougher rules and regulations. Once we know where the problems are, it is a relatively simple, cost-effective matter to start plugging the leaks.

Could industry police itself, as the Journal suggests? The evidence suggests otherwise. The biggest voluntary program for reducing industry methane emissions, EPA’s Natural Gas Star, has been around since 1993, but of the more than 6,000 producers in operation, fewer than 30 are participants.

Fortunately, the economics favor action. Cutting current methane emissions in half by requiring leak detection and repair and other sensible measures, would save the oil & gas industry nearly $1 billion a year in wasted product and cut the 20-year climate pollution equivalent of 90 coal-fired power plants.

Penciling out the math even farther, a study by ICF recently estimated that companies could cut methane emissions by 40 percent or more for about one quarter of one percent of the price of the gas they’re selling. That means $4.00 worth of gas would cost $4.01 – an affordable bargain even at a time of falling prices.

In short, the Wall Street Journal has the facts backward. When you get the numbers straight, it’s easy to see how the methane problem is also a huge, low-cost opportunity to help address the climate challenge, and to recognize that sensible regulation can set a level playing field for all oil and gas operators, not just the few who choose to do the right thing.

Photo source: flickr.com/photos/earthworks

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

PA environmental groups: Time is ripe for action on methane pollution

On Wednesday, several of Pennsylvania's most prominent environmental organizations joined forces in calling on Gov.-elect Tom Wolf to address methane emissions from natural gas operations early in his first term. The statement is below. 

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PA environmental groups: Time is ripe for action on methane pollution

(Harrisburg – January 7, 2015) – Leading Pennsylvania and national environmental organizations today encouraged Governor-elect Tom Wolf to improve the protection of environmental and public health by tackling methane pollution early in his tenure as governor.


Recent polling indicates that 70 percent of Pennsylvanians not only have been dissatisfied with the lack of state leadership on natural gas issues, but also support regulating methane emissions in the state. (Poll conducted by Global Strategy Group of 801 registered voters in Pennsylvania between September 25-29, 2014.)

Mr. Wolf expressed a similar perspective – in line with public sentiment – last year when he addressed the issue of methane leaks: “We need to get clean air and clean water regulations that actually would prevent [methane leaks] from happening.”

By adopting leading-edge practices to prevent methane emissions, Pennsylvania can make a common sense and cost-effective commitment to protecting public health and safety and the environment.

The groups today urged Mr. Wolf to build on public support and make comprehensive methane regulations one of the first acts of his administration. Early action on methane will signal a commitment to safeguarding air, water and land and protecting Pennsylvania families and the communities in which they live.

Participating organizations include the Clean Air Council, Clean Air Task Force, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Water Action, Environmental Defense Fund, PennEnvironment, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, PennFuture, and The Nature Conservancy – Pennsylvania Chapter.

Andrew Sharp is director of outreach for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. He tweets @RexBainbridge.