WASHINGTON Dec 17 Democratic lawmakers
concerned about the growing U.S. reliance on natural gas for
electricity on Tuesday called for a congressional hearing on
emissions of methane - a potent greenhouse gas - from oil and
Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House of
Representatives' energy and commerce panel, and Bobby Rush,
chairman of the House energy and power subcommittee, asked for a
hearing following two recent studies that found the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency underestimated methane emissions
and the amount of methane leaks.
The pair said an investigation of the science behind methane
emissions is essential as the United States continues to see
massive growth in natural gas production.
"Sound science must inform our policymaking as the nation
increases its production of natural gas, uses more natural gas
to generate electricity, and even begins to export natural gas
to new markets," they wrote in a letter to their Republican
A report by Harvard University researchers published in
November in the respected Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences journal raised concern about the EPA's estimates of
The research found the agency may have underestimated the
total by 50 percent in 2007 and 2008, and that discrepancies
were greatest in oil and gas-producing south-central states,
where total emissions are nearly five times greater than EPA
Another study that recently appeared in the same
publication, by researchers at the University of Texas,
examined gas production at 190 wells around the country.
The study found that leaks of methane from certain types of
production equipment were much higher than previously thought.
Waxman and Rush attributed the country's recent success in
lowering power plant carbon emissions to switching from coal to
natural gas. But they expressed concern about the climate impact
of the full lifecycle of the production, processing and
distribution of gas.
Methane, like carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas but it is
more potent, with a higher global warming potential.
EPA regulations targeting power plant pollution are expected
to rely heavily on continued switching to natural gas from coal
as a fuel source.
In a proposal released this fall, the EPA said that any new
coal plant that can be built would have to have the same
emissions rate as an average natural gas burning plant - a
requirement backers of coal have said is unachievable.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Dan Grebler)