Commentary: Trump Policy on Carbon Emissions and Global Warming

Before the election of President Trump, I remember sitting at CERAWeek 2016 and listening to Gina McCarthy talk about how busy things are at the EPA.  She mentioned how the USA is part of the Paris Climate Accord and that the EPA is publishing a document that is part of the Accord:  Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, 1990 – 2015 (dated April 15, 2017).  McCarthy also added that the EPA is targeting methane emissions (fugitive emissions in particular) because methane is 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

At first I thought, “why methane fugitive emissions when the fracking industry is blowing loads of carbon emissions into the air with frack gas flaring?”  So, I thought I would take a look into the subject and here is what I found for the year 2015.  Note that the EPA has placed all green house gas emissions on a common basis, relative to carbon dioxide.  In other words, methane emission is standardized to the equivalent carbon dioxide emission.  The units are MMT carbon dioxide Eq – million metric ton carbon dioxide equivalent.

CATEGORY                    MMT CO2 Eq         % of Total

US Greenhouse Emissions     6586.7                 100

Carbon Dioxide              5411.4                 82.2
Electricity Generation      1900.7                 28.9
Transportation              1736.4                 26.4
Natural Gas Systems         42.4                   0.64
Petrochemical               28.1                   0.43
Petroleum Systems           3.6                    0.05

Methane                     655.7                  10.0
Natural Gas Systems         162.4                  2.5
Petroleum Systems           39.9                   0.61

Transportation includes
cars, buses, motorcycles
light, medium, and heavy trucks
recreational and nonrecreational boats
ships, rail, commercial aircraft, military aircraft, and general aviation aircraft

Natural Gas Systems Gathering includes
production, including gathering and boosting
processing, transmission, storage, and distribution

Petroleum Systems includes
production field operations, including flaring
crude oil transportation
crude oil refining

By looking at the data, my intuition was right:  why was the EPA putting so many restrictions on the oil/gas/petroleum refining sectors with regards to methane fugitive emissions when the contributions of these sectors to the US global warming problem is about 5% in terms of carbon dioxide and methane?  In fact, much bigger contributors to the global warming problem are the electricity generation and transportation sectors.

The White House denies that global warming is a real concern, which I see as a mistake.  However, I think that Trump is right in his efforts to relieve the hydrocarbon industry of the need to spend lots of money on equipment, time, and wages searching for fugitive gas emissions, especially methane emissions.  The simple reason is that the hydrocarbon industry is not a big player in the problem.  The real players are the transportation and electricity sectors; and I have not heard the White House, nor anyone else, point the finger at them.

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