This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series Winter - 2016


by Anne J. Manning

He’s environmentalist royalty, and he headlined the Natural Gas Symposium held at Colorado State University this past fall. Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), was keynote speaker at the fifth annual event that’s quickly become a premier draw for industry and academia.

The symposium offered overviews of the latest science, technical challenges, and policy debates around the oil and natural gas industries so prevalent in Colorado and beyond.

Krupp’s visit came on the heels of groundbreaking CSU-led research that could help shape a leaner, greener future for natural gas. The research centered around the insidious, understudied leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s the main component in natural gas, throughout the entire product supply chain – from the hole in the ground to the furnace in the home.


CSU researchers took the lead on three EDF-sponsored methane emissions studies. One project led by Daniel Zimmerle, senior research scientist at the CSU Energy Institute, focused on methane emitted into the atmosphere from the natural gas transmission and storage sector. The results found no statistical difference from total emissions reported in the EPA’s 2012 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, but the emissions came from a substantial mix of sources.

Another project was led by Anthony Marchese, professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the CSU Energy Institute’s Engines and Energy Conversion Lab. His team looked at gathering and processing facilities, and they found, among other things, methane emissions that were eight times higher than previous estimates.

A third project — led by Joe von Fischer, CSU professor of biology — mapped natural gas pipeline methane leakages in cities across the U.S. using sensor-equipped Google Street View cars. The data gathered already has had a big impact in New Jersey: that state’s largest utility company has decided to invest $905 million in pipeline improvements, thanks in part to von Fischer’s project.

In all, EDF commissioned a total of 16 studies on natural gas methane emissions. The goal: impartial, science-based inquiry into the how, where, why, and what to do about this harmful greenhouse gas. The results, rolling out since the studies were commissioned beginning in 2012, have been eye-opening.

While on campus, EDF President Fred Krupp chatted with CSU Outcomes about the studies, CSU’s impact on the science, and on the timely new EPA rules being hammered out that could directly in uence methane emissions in the natural gas sector.


CSU OUTCOMES: Why did you tap the expertise of CSU researchers for these methane studies?

FRED KRUPP: CSU has some of the best people in the world who know how to measure methane. And we were after the best. It wasn’t friendship or favoritism – it was merit-based. We have professors at universities all over the country working on various methane-related research, but CSU is unique in that it’s led several of our studies. And we’re so appreciative of their good work.

CSU OUTCOMES: How influential will the results of these studies be going forward?

FRED KRUPP: The oil and gas industry tends to be very data-based, very fact-based. And until this set of research was done, it was like having an argument with a friend that’s fact-free. Passion was high on both sides, but nobody had any facts. Through the great cooperation of a whole lot of universities and a lot of the oil and gas companies, we now have the facts. And the industry has begun to clean up the leaks.

What I hope in terms of the implication and influence of this work is that we get to a day where there is a level playing field, and everyone can spend the significant but relatively small amount of money, half of a percent of what the natural gas companies spend every year, to reduce leaks by 40 or 45 percent. This is the biggest bargain in pollution cleanup I’ve ever seen in my career.

CSU OUTCOMES: What’s your take on the new EPA rules being discussed now for natural gas methane emissions?

FRED KRUPP: The EPA rules are a big step forward by the [Obama] administration. It’s the first time the EPA has put forward regulations on methane, so I’m grateful for that. They deserve praise for getting the ball rolling at the national level. The [rules] don’t go far enough, though. They are weaker than Colorado’s rules in several respects, particularly in not having frequent enough leak detection and repair. If you’re not looking for the leaks very often then a leak could go undetected, in some cases for years.

These rules the EPA has proposed have one other big weakness as compared to the program that Gov. [John] Hickenlooper worked out with not only EDF, but Noble, Anadarko, and Encana – the biggest producers and developers of the oil fields here in Colorado. That big weakness is that they only cover new and modified sources and not existing infrastructure. If this rule isn’t supplemented down the road by calling for existing sources to clean up, then 90 percent of the leaks that exist today will still be leaking a few years from now. That really is unacceptable, especially when the cost of fixing these pipes is so small.

In your home, if you had a pipe leaking water, you wouldn’t ignore it. It could damage the integrity of your house. I think in a similar way the pipes that are leaking in the oil and gas fields are doing serious damage to the reputation of the industry. And as to the assertion that natural gas is a clean fuel, it has the potential to be, but not until the plumbing is fixed.