Obama Administration Issues New Methane Emissions Standards for the U.S.

A White House Fact Sheet, released on January 14, announces a new goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 – 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. In general, reaction from environmental groups has been tepid, citing the need to address existing operations, and to rely more on regulation and less on voluntary industry action. Read “Climate Hawks aren’t impressed with Obama’s Methane Plan” in Mother Jones (Jan. 20) for a summary of reactions.

U.S. Announces Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions

On March 28th, the White House released a Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions as part of the overall Climate Action Plan. It includes plans and timetables for research and consultation for agriculture, landfill, coal mining and oil and gas. Re oil and gas, the press release states: “in the fall of 2014, EPA will determine how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources. If EPA decides to develop additional regulations, it will complete those regulations by the end of 2016”. See the press release and overview at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/03/28/strategy-cut-methane-emissions; see the full Strategy Document at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/strategy_to_reduce_methane_emissions_2014-03-28_final.pdf.

New Evidence About the Climate Impacts of Methane Leaks Sparks a Union Call for a Global Moratorium on Fracking

The January 28 meeting of the Global Advisory Group of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy considered a  draft paper concerning fracking. The paper, prepared by the Cornell Global Labor Institute states, “This paper has been prepared to assist unions and their close allies who wish to better understand the impacts of shale gas drilling, or ‘fracking’, and want to develop a position or approach to fracking that protects workers, communities and the environment…” It is an extensive review of the core issues driving anti-fracking activism, and the current  activities of social movement  groups and unions (chiefly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in Europe and Argentina). It highlights the pro-fracking position of the AFL-CIO Building Trades union in the U.S. and the anti-fracking statements of Canada’s Unifor and CUPE. About Unifor and CUPE, the paper states: “their perspective on fracking combines a social movement approach that prioritizes solidarity with other movements but it is also grounded in a pragmatic approach to Canadian energy policy involving the use of their natural resources in ways that are responsible and beneficial for the Canadian economy as a whole”.

In a separate document, the Trades Union Congress of the U.K. reiterated its 2012 position in its February 13, 2014 presentation to an Inquiry of the House of Lords into shale gas. It encapsulates two competing interests of trade unions on the issue: the TUC “… wishes to focus on two issues of concern…the need for reliable forecasts of economic and employment benefits; and setting the highest standards for occupational health and safety at work”. It follows up on the TUC policy statement which is based on the precautionary principle and effectively calls for a moratorium on fracking.

Although water consumption and contamination were the initial concerns of anti-fracking activism, the TUED paper states that recent scientific research reveals that methane (the major component of natural gas) is “34 times stronger as a heat-trapping gas than CO2 over a 100-year time scale, and 86 times more powerful over a 20-year time frame”. Reinforcing the TUED summary, a new paper published in Science in February analyzed more than 200 technical publications examining methane leakage in the natural gas industry, and by expanding the focus to include the production and delivery stages, the authors conclude that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating the amount of methane emitted in the United States by about 50 percent.

The TUED draft paper argues that natural gas can no longer be promoted as a “bridging” fuel towards a lower carbon energy system, and it is no longer appropriate for the fight against shale gas production to be led by local groups at the level of local government. The paper calls for a “global conference sponsored by one or more global trade union bodies”, [to] “work towards a common trade union approach, with the ‘precautionary principle’ as a point of departure”. The paper concludes by proposing a draft resolution for a global moratorium.

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LINKS

Global Shale Gas and the Anti-Fracking Movement: Developing Union Perspectives and Approaches is available from the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy website from a link at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/
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An additional summary of scientific research on methane leakage in natural gas and fracking is at: http://energydemocracyinitiative.org/professor-robert-w-howarths-presentation-for-trade-unions-for-energy-democracy/

TUC press release regarding the House of Lords Inquiry into Shale Gas is at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/node/119642

“Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems” by Brandt et al. in Science (Feb. 14, 2014) is available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6172/733.summary?sid=7f1c6729-6268-488d-9c49-88bdd0b553a1, or summarized in “Study Finds Methane Leaks Negate Benefits of Natural Gas as a Fuel for Vehicles”, (New York Times, Feb. 14) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/us/study-finds-methane-leaks-negate-climate-benefits-of-natural-gas.html?_r=1

For those involved in community-level action in Canada, see the February publication by the Council of Canadians, The Fractivist’s Toolkit, at: http://www.canadians.org/publications/fractivists-toolkit