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The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed updates to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP). (Also, a shorter factsheet is available here).

So, what is the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program and why is it important?

Major discrepancies between industry self-reporting & on-the-ground studies of pollution

Every year, oil & gas operators of a certain size are required to report their greenhouse gas or other polluting emissions to the federal Environmental Protection Program. That data is then used by federal and state governments to set standards to protect public health and climate. 

This data is self-reported to the EPA by industry and in the 2010s showed methane pollution on the decline. However, what Earthworks found in the field at the well sites with our Optical Gas Imaging cameras used by our certified Thermographers showed the opposite to be true. Energy Field advocates pointed out that something was terribly wrong. 

The industry’s claims that methane pollution was decreasing were false. Study after study from independent scientists showed methane pollution increasing. Then a powerful peer-reviewed study of exactly this problem was published by the Environmental Defense Fund in 2018. The study showed that methane pollution was at least 60% WORSE than oil & gas companies were reporting.

The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is broken. 

And it has yet to be fixed. There are two major issues:

  • (1) oil & gas companies are permitted to provide estimates on pollution emissions using engineering formulas, which simply means that, rather than directly measuring the pollution from operations, companies were submitting data based on ‘back of the napkin’ estimates about how much their equipment would pollute were it being used perfectly. Our field investigations capture so many malfunctions and human errors, that it is comical for anyone to think these estimates would be accurate.
  • (2) oil & gas companies are permitted to self report without any third-party or regulatory confirmation of the data from operations in-the-field and on-the-ground.

EPA’s New Proposal  

As required by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Methane Emission Reduction Program (MERP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released proposed updates to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP). 

While these updates represent an important step towards improving accuracy and transparency of data and accountability for methane pollution in the oil and gas industry, these updates still contain troubling potential loopholes that could vastly reduce the efficacy of the GHGRP and our ability to meet climate crisis aversion goals in accordance with the IPCC’s recommendations.

Methane is 80+ times more potent a greenhouse gas in the short-term (20 years) than carbon dioxide – it is a major climate catastrophe accelerator, responsible for more than 25% of the climate change we are experiencing today. 

As mentioned above, research demonstrates that from 2012-2018 the oil and gas industry emitted at least 13 million metric tons of methane per year – 60% more than EPA estimates during that time. Methane emissions can happen at every stage of oil and gas production, distribution, and use.

The IPCC has been raising alarms about this for decades. Their message is clear: in order to limit warming to 1.5℃, global methane emissions must be reduced by more than ⅓ of emissions in 2019. This will require both mitigation of methane pollution from existing oil and gas infrastructure as well as a managed decline of oil and gas production and use.

Therefore, it is imperative that the EPA’s updates to the GHGRP require: (1) accurate, direct measurement of greenhouse gas pollution throughout the oil and gas industry supply chain; (2) truly independent third-party verification of reported measurements; and, (3) these data be publicly accessible.      

Finally, and most importantly, the Biden administration and Governors of oil & gas producing states must forge a way forward that manages the decline of all fossil fuels in the United States toward a renewable, sustainable, more just and equitable near future. Even the best rules cannot stop polluters from polluting entirely. The harms of continued expansion of oil & gas cannot be mitigated by regulations alone. 

The science is clear. We know what we must do. We must mobilize the political will now to do it.

The deadline for public comment for this draft update is mid-August.
Earthworks will be sending out requests shortly for folks to let EPA know we need to directly and accurately measure pollution from polluters to protect people and climate.