Appalachian pipeline emissions would be equal to 42 coal-fired power plants

New analysis uses coal-fired plants as guide for explaining pipeline’s life-cycle emissions.

Residents of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, express opposition to the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. CREDIT: Mark Hand/ThinkProgress
Residents of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, express opposition to the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. CREDIT: Mark Hand/ThinkProgress

Given the crisis of global climate change, anti-fossil fuel activists have sought to draw attention to the climate impacts of extracting, transporting, and burning natural gas, whose primary component is methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Oil Change International, a nonprofit research group, studied one of the largest proposed natural gas pipelines in the Appalachian region and came away with precise calculations of the pipeline project’s climate impact.

The Rover Pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) — the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline — will produce emissions equivalent to about 145 million metric tons of carbon dioxide on an annual basis, equal to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by 42 coal-fired power plants, the group says in a report released Wednesday.

For its calculations, Oil Change International converted methane leakage to carbon dioxide equivalent using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 20-year global warming potential factor of 86, or one ton of methane vented or leaked to the atmosphere is equivalent to 86 tons of carbon dioxide.

Based on the findings, Oil Change International said it wants federal regulators to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement for the pipeline that includes a “credible analysis” of the project’s lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and climate change impact.

The Rover Pipeline’s proposed route runs 510 miles from southwest Pennsylvania and northwest West Virginia, through Ohio to Michigan. The project will carry 3.25 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

“As the biggest new pipeline being built to carry fracked gas out of the Appalachian Basin, the Rover Pipeline is the biggest climate disaster of them all,” Lorne Stockman, senior research analyst at Oil Change International and the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “After Trump’s malicious pullout from the Paris climate accord, challenging each new pipeline is all the more important.”

ETP had not responded to requests for comment on the report at the time of this article’s publication.

The Rover Pipeline study is the fourth in a series of briefings by Oil Change International calculating the full climate impact of natural gas pipelines proposed in the Appalachian Basin. In total, the briefings show that federal regulators have “dismissed the pollution equivalent of over 100 coal-fired power plants in reviewing the Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley, PennEast, and Rover projects alone,” the group said.

The group’s look at the environmental impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline concluded that the pipeline would create 68 million metric tons of emissions on an annual basis, equivalent to the emissions produced by 20 coal plants.

Natural gas drilling has steadily increased in Pennsylvania, including at this Range Resources site, over the past 10 years. CREDIT: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Natural gas drilling has steadily increased in Pennsylvania, including at this Range Resources site, over the past 10 years. CREDIT: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The group looked at four sources of emissions in its analysis. Emissions from the combustion of the natural gas that the pipeline will carry would total about 67 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to Oil Change International.

Emissions from methane leaked across the gas supply chain would total about 71 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Emissions from natural gas extraction, including fracking and processing, would total about 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Emissions from compressor stations along Rover Pipeline’s route would total about 800,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the group found.

In early May, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered a partial stop of horizontal directional drilling activities in Ohio after ETP spilled millions of gallons of drilling waste into wetlands. Ohio regulators have fined the company for violations, which now exceed two dozen incidents, according to Oil Change International.

ETP is hoping to put phase one of the project, which would run to Defiance, Ohio, into service by July. Phase two of the project, which goes to the Dawn trading hub in Ontario, Canada, is scheduled to enter service by November. However, Oil Change International said it believes that schedule is now in question, given the partial work stoppage ordered by the federal government and controversy over the spills.