Groups says Louisiana firms, economy could benefit from limiting greenhouse gas _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK - A rig drills for oil and natural gas in Vermilion Parish in 2011. A report says businesses in Louisiana and the economy couldl benefit from federal efforts to limit methane emissions from oil and gas production, gathering, processing and distribution operations.

Louisiana is one of the states that will reap the biggest economic gains from efforts to reduce air pollution from oil and gas, especially the Baton Rouge and Lafayette firms that provide these services, according to a new report from the Environmental Defense Fund.

The federal government is looking at standards that would limit methane emissions from oil and gas production, gathering, processing and distribution operations. Unburned natural gas is mostly methane, a powerful and valuable greenhouse gas. By increasing the use of methane-mitigation services, the oil and gas industry could save more than $1 billion a year, while reducing air pollution and creating high-paying jobs, according to the report.

However, Ragan Dickens, a spokesman for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, was skeptical of the report.

“Let’s not get lost in the job numbers and financial savings that the EDF throws around with ease,” Dickens said. “The heart of the matter is this: the EDF survives off of ensuring more regulations are placed on the industry. We should take announcements such as this one with a grain of salt.”

“There’s an understandable suspicion that when you take action to address environmental concerns that somehow you are a drag on economic activity,” said Mark Brownstein, associate vice president and chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “Also what you sometimes hear is that there isn’t the technology or the capacity to address the pollution that needs to be addressed.”

The report suggests that neither of those things are true, Brownstein said.

“First of all, the capacity’s here. The technology’s here. These are American companies. They’re in Louisiana,” Brownstein said. “And No. 2, because they’re in Louisiana, the economic value of getting after these emissions is going to benefit people in Louisiana, to say nothing of the environmental benefits … less air pollution for people living in and around the well sites.”

Louisiana, with 16 oilfield service companies that provide air pollution controls in 29 locations, ranks No. 5 in the burgeoning methane mitigation industry, the report says.

Nine of those locations are in the Baton Rouge area and seven in the Lafayette area.

The companies offer a wide range of methane emission controls, from leak detection and low-emission valves to electric pumps and vapor recovery.

Other states that would also benefit include Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

The Environmental Defense Fund says growing U.S. energy exploration is also increasing concern about methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates oil and gas operations emit 8.5 million tons of methane a year, or $1.8 billion worth of gas based on the average price over the last year.

Consulting firm ICF International estimates that methane emissions will increase by roughly 5 percent from now through 2018 without industrywide adoption of new control measures. However, in that same report, ICF says the oil and gas industry could cut those emissions by 40 percent — using existing technologies — at an average cost of 1 cent per thousand cubic feet of natural gas.

Greater state and federal regulations are needed to reduce those emissions, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

The oil and gas sector is already the nation’s second-largest industrial source of climate pollution. Around 25 percent of today’s manmade global warming is caused by methane emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Colorado’s rules are a model for smart policy with clear economic, environmental and health benefits.

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