Poster Paper: Beyond the Curtain of Methane Emissions: A Case of Oklahoma

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jongeun You, University of Colorado, Denver

Methane (CH4), the prime constituent of natural gas and 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is problematic as the U.S. has enjoyed dramatic growth in natural gas development. CH4 has been responsible for 20% of global warming since pre-industrial times (Kirschke et al. 2013), is more potent at trapping energy than carbon dioxide (Yvon-Durocher et al. 2014), and even be a threat to human health (Perera 2017). CH4 emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems, which accounted for 31% of U.S. CH4 emissions over the last fifteen years (EPA 2017a), are primarily associated with oil and natural gas production, processing, and transportation.

Whereas many studies have investigated the impact of CH4 on climate change and public health, very little research has been conducted on the state CH4 regulations in fossil-fuel extraction. The collective state experience of Oklahoma, which has been a market leader on the policy, law, and economics of developing the fossil fuel industry (David et al. 2008), with regard to CH4 emissions management could be instructive. Miller et al. (2013) shows that CH4 emissions from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas alone constitute 24% of U.S. CH4 emissions. CH4 emissions in Oklahoma increased by 12% from 2011 to 2015 (EPA 2017b), while U.S. CH4 emissions have decreased by 2% since 2011, 16% since 1990, respectively. At the same time, studies suggest that real CH4 emissions are 1.5-3.2x higher than EPA estimates (Hariss et al. 2015; Lavoie et al. 2015; Brandt et al. 2014). Furthermore, the recent rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma triggered by the disposal of wastewater from oil and natural gas production has added to concerns about CH4 emissions. Petroleum and natural gas systems were the second largest anthropogenic source category of CH4 emissions in Oklahoma in 2015, an increase of 63% since 2011 (EPA 2017c). The cause of rising CH4 emissions is the steady increase in Oklahoma’s shale production. Oklahoma is the 3rd largest proven natural gas reserves and the 4th largest proven shale gas reserves in the U.S. (EIA 2016).

This exploratory case study’s primary goal is to analyze how state governments, such as the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulator) and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, formulate and implement CH4 emissions policies. Key questions are how have state Oklahoma governments attempted to control CH4 recently, including their release of public data, and what are the differences compared to the national best practice model of Colorado, which became the first state in 2014 to require companies to fix CH4 leaks from oil and gas drilling. Colorado’s rule has reduced the amount of CH4, improved air quality, and enhanced profitability and worker safety (Becker 2016). I also plan to examine local and state media, as well as legislative data, to analyze tax implications in Oklahoma concerning CH4 emissions, such as relationships between the Oklahoma’s driller-friendly tax rates, non-levying on flaring and venting, and Oklahoma’s current budget shortfall. Lastly, I plan to propose viable strategies to improve the effectiveness of CH4 emissions management in Oklahoma.