The shale gas boom has replaced coal-fired power plants with natural gas and, in the process, reduced greenhouse gas emissions. But that is only part of the story, a new report cautions.
The boom could increase greenhouse gas emissions from related industries by 91 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, equal to the emissions from 20 large coal-fired power plants, the report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) finds.
The analysis is based on permit applications filed by companies with U.S. EPA since Jan. 1, 2012.
Some 21 proposed liquefied natural gas export projects are expected to produce a significant portion of the emissions. Nine of the projects have applied for or obtained permits to emit a cumulative 29 million tons per year. The most significant emitters would be in Maryland (Cove Point LNG Project), Oregon (LNG Terminal Project), Louisiana (Terminal Johnsons Bayou, Sabine Pass LNG Terminal and Cameron LNG Facility) and Texas (Corpus Christi Liquefaction).
The oil and gas sector as a whole -- including LNG export facilities, compressors that push gas through pipelines, separators and others -- is expected to emit 41 million tons per year.
The chemicals manufacturing sector is expected to emit 45.8 million tons per year as companies plan new plants to extract ethylene, propylene, methanol and other chemicals from natural gas liquids feedstock.
Petroleum refining will increase in emissions by 4.3 million tons per year.
Overall, much of the emissions are likely to be from Louisiana and Texas, where a majority of these facilities are planned.
"We are looking at a boom in the gas industry that has some advantages to the economy, but it also causes some pollution," said Eric Schaefer, executive director of EIP and co-author of the report. "The EPA needs to get in front of that phenomenon and get some standards in place."
EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, in accordance with a 2007 Supreme Court ruling. It does so by requiring large sources to implement best available control technologies as part of the permitting process. EPA examines the permits on a case-by-case basis.
But EPA has not developed industrywide standards to regulate emissions, said Schaefer. Such an action would set a bar for improving energy efficiency across the board and help curb emissions, he said.
In Texas, where EPA is responsible for greenhouse gas permitting, it is generally accepting the permitting applications submitted by companies without much change, Schaefer said.
"The EPA is supposed to set a floor for any new project, and that hasn't been done," he said.