Deceiving the Public Doesn’t Help the Environment

by Aaron Johnson, Vice President of Public Affairs on July 27, 2017 - 7:32am

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of the Interior recently kicked off the long process of repealing or rescinding methane regulations aimed at oil and natural gas production. Based on their actions so far this year, we know just how environmental activist groups will respond.

We’ve witnessed their playbook to advance these flawed regulations for many months, and predictably they’re promoting misleading information to advance the cause of job-killing regulation.

Since January, President Trump’s administration has worked to reverse controversial methane regulations that Obama’s team rushed through. EPA is working to put the brakes on its rule regulating methane emissions on new wells. Interior is working to delay implementing portions of a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule governing venting and flaring of methane from oil and natural gas operations on public lands. Certain provisions of both rules will be reviewed as the agencies consider repealing or rescinding them in the wake of lawsuits by groups like Western Energy Alliance, IPAA, and several states.

In response, environmental groups have gone to great lengths to scare the public about methane, a gas found naturally that poses no direct human health threat at the low levels emitted from production equipment. Because methane poses no direct public health risk, it’s not classified as a hazardous air pollutant or a criteria pollutant in the Clean Air Act. The only direct danger is its flammability at high concentrations in a contained space, as with oxygen.

Across the country, we’ve seen advertising and lobbying campaigns organized by well-funded groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and numerous local front groups. Environmental activists have also resorted to one of their favorite tactics, placing misleading stories in local media with nefarious looking infrared images of oil and natural gas equipment supposedly emitting methane. For example, WildEarth Guardians misled local media by taking reporters out on a field tour and holding up an infrared camera and claiming it was showing large methane emissions.

                      KKCO-TV, Utah, news report                                                      Sen. Cantwell (D-Wash.) on the Senate Floor

The problem is that the activists don’t have the proper training to understand what they’re viewing through the camera. They assume each cloud that appears is methane and convince reporters the same. They even convinced unwitting senators to use the infrared images during congressional debates.

Hear from an expert on infrared imagery

Anybody with an infrared camera can show a cloud coming off equipment, but that reading may not be methane. It could just be steam or heat. Just because well-funded activists can afford a camera, which costs upwards of $100,000, doesn’t mean they know how to use it properly or know how to interpret what it’s showing. It takes properly trained and certified professionals to identify the difference.

Tweet from the Environmental Defense Fund

If the goal of environmental groups is to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gases, they should support the oil and natural gas industry instead of funding misinformation campaigns. Our industry has reduced methane emissions by about 20% even while increasing natural gas production over 50% since 1990, all without new federal regulations, according to EPA’s greenhouse gas inventory. And increased use of natural gas in electricity generation is the No. 1 reason the United States has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country.

Instead of media ploys, the public and policymakers need sound science and reliable data. For some, it might be hard to see through the images that come from infrared cameras, but for those willing to watch with a discerning eye, the facts will be revealed. 

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