The problem with emission reduction models

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President Biden and Vice President Harris celebrated the potential of the Inflation Reduction Act to address the global climate crisis in one year invitation-only event on the South Lawn of the White House last week. But how much will this new law cost in reality to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

There are several answers to this question and not all of them are actually correct. Mainstream average sources have extensively repeated a statistic: that the IRA will reduce U.S. emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. This number is agreed upon by a small handful of outspoken research shops, namely the Rhodium Group, Energy Innovation and a Princeton University group known as the REPEAT project. That’s an encouraging number, considering President Biden’s goal was to halve emissions by 2030. According to these figures, the IRA would take us about 80% of the way.

The problem, unfortunately, is that all three of these models are based on methane-related data and metrics used by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which have been to found from And from still be inaccurate. All three models may therefore underestimate not only historic U.S. emissions, but emissions over the next seven years as well.

This is particularly worrying considering lawmakers could soon vote on a dirty bill “allowing the reform”, which Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) says his IRA vote was conditional on approval. The bill aims to approve the Fracked Mountain Valley Pipeline and send an expedited federal review of at least five more fossil fuel infrastructure projects, which will undeniably increase emissions and exacerbate the burden of toxic and carcinogenic oil and gas infrastructure on frontline communities. Will the IRA offset these effects? This is the threshold question.

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To understand why the optimistic projections of these mainstream models are not to be taken as a guarantee, we need to get a little shaky.

First, the EPA’s inventory of greenhouse gas emissions is not based on actual measurements of the planet-warming gases released by fossil fuel infrastructure. Use a “bottom up” computer modeling approach which estimates the average annual release of nearly 8,000 fossil fuel plants. This is already incomplete, as many emission sources are not included, such as the estimate 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells across the United States

Many small polluters are also exempted from reporting emissions in the inventory. earthworks Notes that “thousands of small polluters add up to create a big problem: a large but unknown volume of pollution is released each year without being tracked.” And like a terrifying new investigation by Inside Climate News and NBC memorandum us, the oil and gas infrastructure releases other extremely potent “immortal” greenhouse gases that are not regulated by the EPA at all.

In contrast to the EPA’s inventory method, researchers taking a “top-down” approach using atmospheric measurements or satellite imagery to track methane releases to say the EPA inventory “underestimates by half the amount of methane leaking from US oil and gas operations.” a 2018 study a science found that methane emissions from the oil and gas supply chain in 2015 were approximately 60% higher than the EPA inventory estimate and a Study 2022 found through aerial surveys that methane emissions were in the New Mexico Permian Basin six times greater compared to the EPA estimate.

The EPA’s inventory of greenhouse gas emissions is not based on actual measurements of the gases that warm the planet released by fossil fuel infrastructure.

The assumed leak rate of the EPA model does not take into account the reality of human error and abnormal operating conditions that increase gas leaks. Much of the belief that natural gas is a “greener” fossil fuel than coal is based on an expected methane loss rate throughout its life cycle that is distant minor compared to the real loss rate.

The EPA model is also based on inputs provided by oil and gas companies. This system is easy to play. Bloomberg reported last month that “an unorthodox reading of a single word in the EPA regulations allowed [U.S.-based natural gas producer] Range to reduce its declared emissions from power generation by 93 percent in 2020 compared to the approach used by most oil and gas companies. “

The EPA inventory also uses an outdated estimate of the carbon dioxide equivalence of methane, dating back to the 2007 IPCC report. Since then, the IPCC has twice updated its calculation of the global warming potential of methane.

Not only that: the EPA also chooses to consider methane’s global warming potential over a 100-year timeframe, which dilutes our understanding of methane’s short-term impact, as the gas is much more potent in its first two decades in the atmosphere. In 2021, the IPCC estimated that methane had a global warming potential (GWP) of 100 years 29.8 times that of CO2and a 20-year global warming potential 82.5 times that of CO2. The EPA model continues to use the 2007 IPCC estimate of the 100-year GWP of methane: 25 times that of CO2.

All three major modellers use the 2007 GWP estimate of 100 years of methane and are based on the same incomplete EPA inventory. We need to consider the likelihood that the consistency of some of these models with each other results from relying on the same faulty data inputs.

In fact, Energy Innovation addressed this problem directly in late August research note about their IRA modeling. “Our methane values ​​are tied to the EPA inventory,” they acknowledge. “Many studies have shown that the EPA inventory underestimates methane losses and associated methane emissions … In this case, we have chosen to use the same factors as the EPA to ensure comparability with the inventory, with other modeling studies and with the International Convention on Emissions Reporting and Tracking. We recognize however that using more up-to-date values ​​or assessing impacts using GWP20 values ​​would modify the estimated reductions in CO emissions2e. “But Energy Innovation is the only modeler to publicly struggle with the problem.

Separately, each of the leading model makers assumes that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will be successful on a large scale. The Princeton Analysis predictions a 13-fold increase in the use of technology by 2030, and both Rhodium And Energy innovation incorporate CCS as an important part of potential emissions reductions.

The problem here is simple: even the largest CCS facility under construction is only intended to remove 0.0001 per cent of the CO2 emitted globally each year, and much of the planned carbon capture is not even designed to be sequestered (i.e. removed), but to be used in further perforation. CCS technology serves to extend the life of the fossil fuel industry; Industry documents released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee last week showed oil and gas companies admit it internally.

Inaccuracies in climate modeling are inevitable, as the global climate system is hypercomplex and under a level of tension our species has never witnessed before. But it’s troubling when these projections are treated as near-guaranteed, particularly when the narrative they offer is conciliatory and undermines the perceived need for further action.

Rhodium Group has been particularly blunt in recent weeks NPR, E&E news, and elsewhere, minimizing the impact of mandatory oil and gas leasing as “negligible”. Rhodium has also produced reports for fossil fuel industry customers, including the American Petroleum Institute. Even his best partners are not enemies of the industry: Trevor Houser claimed for the repeal of the export ban on crude oil in 2015, worked to keep a ban on fracking from the 2016 Democratic Party platform as Hillary Clinton’s chief energy consultant, and even wrote a book using financing from BP, Cheniere, Chevron and Dow Chemical spoke in favor of the expansion of natural gas. John Larsen, another frequently quoted Rhodium partner, it was a long lawyer for the expansion of natural gas in the United States. A Rhodium representative could not be reached for comment.

Jesse Jenkins’ ZERO lab at Princeton, which modeled the impacts of the IRA, did not receive fossil fuel funding. Jenkins has separately received funding from the Princeton Carbon Mitigation Initiative, which is funded by BP, and as a researcher for Princeton’s Net-Zero America study, which is financed by BP and ExxonMobil. He joined Net-Zero America after his funding was negotiated.

Moving forward, the chronically understaffed, understaffed The Environmental Protection Agency desperately needs to be held to a higher standard of oversight of the oil and gas industry, which is impossible without a generous increase in its resources. this could be resolved suitably if the Democrats in Congress chose to make it a non-negotiable tipping point omnibus negotiations later this fall.

Article 136 of Law on the reduction of inflation it also opens $ 850 million in EPA funding, most of which will be distributed to owners and operators of polluting plants to help them file greenhouse gas reports. But some of that funding could be used by the agency itself to “cover all the direct and indirect costs required to administer this section, prepare inventories, collect empirical data and track emissions.” Without any public pressure on the EPA’s faulty emissions monitoring system, it may not take this opportunity to improve its inventory.

Big picture, the media have to ask tough questions about the reliability of the models they use to corroborate claims about our planet’s future condition. There are literally billions of lives at stake in climate policy for the next decade; we need strict relationships now more than ever.

Note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect funding reports regarding Jesse Jenkins, ZERO Lab, and various initiatives at Princeton.


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