Thursday, June 09, 2016

Watchdog with ties to natural gas industry says EPA is monitoring methane with faulty equipment

A North Carolina watchdog group whose reports are mostly funded by the natural-gas industry says "the Environmental Protection Agency is letting untold levels of methane to waft into the air by allowing oil and gas companies to monitor emissions with a pricey device that’s faulty," Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post. The group, NC Warn, "says in the complaint filed with the EPA Office of the Inspector General that the agency knows the $20,000, backpack-sized Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler doesn’t work well because the man who invented the technology that inspired it told them that several times."

"The inventor, Touché Howard, also took his concerns to David Allen, the University of Texas researcher who used the device for a study of methane emissions for the Environmental Defense Fund," Fears writes. "In spite of Howard’s objections, the study found that methane emissions were lower than EPA estimated at completed wells and higher around valves and equipment used to control routine operations at sites. For that, NC Warn accused Allen of fraud."

Allen told Fears, "The instrument was used for only a subset of the measurements that were made.” He said "there are other ways to measure methane, and that the readings of the Bacharach device were double-checked," telling Fears, “All of these systems would have had to fail, simultaneously, and only at certain types of sites with the conditions that are claimed to produce the equipment failure, for our measurements to have been impacted.”

The watchdog group, which casually mentioned in its complaint that 90 percent of the $18 million that was paid for several EDF reports came from the gas industry, said the large majority of the reports had nothing to do with methane, Fears writes. "Howard’s views have weight because he designed the technology used in the monitoring device in the early 1990s. He sold it when he retired in 2003 and eventually Bacharach Inc. bought and modified it. During a test of methane emissions in 2013, Howard noticed that a sensor in the device failed to properly detect methane when other hydrocarbons were present. A cross check confirmed the failure, he said."

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