Fuzzy Math: EDF Edition

by Ryan Streams, Manager of Regulatory Affairs on March 22, 2017 - 8:29am

As the Senate weighs Congressional Review Act action on the BLM venting and flaring rule, activist groups like EDF have reached new levels in their campaign to save BLM’s disastrously expensive and ill-conceived rule. In its latest plea for action, EDF features what can only be described as creative writing in its completely unsupported claims about methane and the oil and natural gas industry.

The group created an online form letter for its supporters to send to Congress urging lawmakers to vote against overturning BLM’s rule. The page begins, “2016 was the hottest year on record—and rising methane emissions are responsible for about a quarter of that increased warming.”

A quarter of increased warming? We’ve heard a lot of eyebrow-raising claims from EDF and its cohorts about the BLM venting and flaring rule, but this new claim about methane strains credulity to the breaking point. How is it that methane can cause a quarter of total global warming when EPA’s own data shows nationally methane emissions represent 9.9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, even when adjusted for methane’s higher potency than carbon dioxide?

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Type, 2015
(Percentages based on million metric tons of CO2 equivalents)

Source: EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory, Chart ES-4

Of course, EDF provides no evidence to support its “quarter of increased warming” assertion, likely because it knows the entire argument is simply not true. Rather, it’s an attempt to overstate industry’s emissions. In reality, the oil and natural gas industry contributes 31% of total U.S. methane emissions, according to the latest EPA data, representing 3.1% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. BLM’s venting and flaring rule targets only a further subset of that–methane emissions from federal production, which represents 21% of total U.S. oil and 16% of natural gas production.

EDF doesn’t stop at wild claims about just methane. EDF’s form letter also makes the misleading claim that gas worth $330 million is lost on federal lands. That has caused some to assume that’s how much money industry is failing to pay the government. BLM itself finds the rule will return only between $9 million and $16 million in royalties. But economist John Dunham, using realistic pricing data, finds that number is under $3.86 million. Because the rule’s costs would result in producers shutting in existing wells and further discourage future development on federal lands, it puts the $1.9 billion in annual royalties returned by the oil and natural gas industry at risk while chasing a mere 0.8% of royalties, not to mention the $114 million lost in other annual state and federal tax revenue.

As we pointed out in a recent column, environmental groups are spreading this misinformation in their effort to confuse senators who are still deciding if they’ll vote to repeal BLM’s rule. EDF’s campaign to save BLM’s misguided rule plays fast and loose with the numbers on both the magnitude of methane emissions and the effectiveness of the rule itself. We urge the Senate to let cooler heads prevail when it comes to the costly, overreaching, and ineffective venting and flaring rule.

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