By Ivan Penn
An environmental organization filed a federal complaint Wednesday, alleging that key reports by a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official wrongfully stated the severity of methane leaks across the nation’s natural gas industry.
In its 68-page complaint to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, NC Warn, a 28-year-old climate and energy justice organization based in North Carolina, alleges that David Allen, a university faculty member who was head of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board at the time of the reports, should have corrected studies about methane leaks after the equipment used for the reports was proved faulty. Allen is on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, according to the complaint.
NC Warn’s conclusion is largely based on whistle-blower Touché Howard, an engineer who invented the technology used to measure methane leaks. Howard identified a flaw in the technology that showed Allen’s studies could be underreporting emissions as much as 100-fold.
The studies were published in 2013 and 2014 by the Environmental Defense Fund at a time of concern about the impact of methane emissions on climate and as the fracking boom led to the drilling of thousands of gas wells across the country. The studies’ findings have been used by the natural gas industry to argue that methane leaks are low.
“In the extreme, that kind of failure could lead to catastrophic explosions,” Howard said in an interview.