As planet nears climate tipping point, Inspector General urged to personally lead investigation after multiple EPA officials knew of systematic underreporting of methane emissions
NC WARN is pushing back hard against a federal bureaucracy that has so far not accepted its duty to rein in scientific fraud and possible criminality in a case with ramifications for the global climate crisis that are impossible to overstate.
At least 10 people, including high-ranking EPA officials, directly knew that devices used in two critical studies of methane leakage and venting at fracking gas sites were underreporting. The inventor of the key device found that it was malfunctioning – and reports that EPA has covered it up for three years. Even the manufacturer later admitted its Bacharach samplers were widely underreporting the emissions of methane, a super-potent greenhouse gas that’s now driving the climate toward a chaotic tipping point, due largely to the recent fracking boom.
All that and more were among the more than 15 allegations carefully documented in a 65-page complaint filed by NC WARN on June 8 with EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins. But last Friday we learned that, somehow, his office chose not to investigate, not to question anyone, and gave no explanation as to why. NC WARN simply received a form letter saying they would not investigate.
Today NC WARN sent a letter calling on Inspector General Elkins to personally lead the expedited investigation in this extremely important scandal.
The natural gas industry has maintained enormous pressure against proposed regulations to curb the widespread leakage and venting of gas – which is mostly methane – despite cost-effective fixes that a few companies have adopted. Two studies headed by Dr. David Allen are at the core of our complaint, and have been used by the gas industry to argue that emissions are low. They were even used by EPA to support the US position at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
As we told Mr. Elkins today: “In short, we proved the two Allen studies were flawed and that EPA officials knew it at the time and others learned of it later but allowed the cover-up to continue. How can it be that your investigators chose not to even question any of these individuals under oath?
Unfortunately, without an explanation, we are left only with speculations and conjecture. In none of the likely rationales we have been able to consider does your agency look good in failing to investigate our allegations.”
We also reminded Elkins that on June 24, we documented to his office that, in response to our complaint, Dr. Allen – who headed the EPA Science Advisory Board during the time he led the study teams – falsely told reporters in writing that there were multiple back-up systems that disproved failure of the primary measuring device. His statement continued the cover-up about the flawed studies and demonstrated Allen’s lack of credibility.
Many other studies have shown alarming levels of methane emissions, far higher than reported by Allen.
Methane is 100 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over the first ten years, and levels in the air above the US have risen sharply since the fracking boom began.
Rapid global heating is now underway that could indicate we’re already experiencing abrupt acceleration of climate change, moving toward an irreversible cascade of heating, extreme weather and soaring sea levels.
Prominent scientists believe there remains very little time – possibly only one or two years – to avert a tipping point that moves global warming beyond humanity’s control, which could lead to worldwide climate-economic-social chaos within just a few dozen years.
In July both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2016 global average temperatures are around the 1.5 degree Celsius level that many scientists believe is the tipping point, but that some of that heat was caused by El Nino.
Cutting the methane spewing from throughout the US natural gas infrastructure – and the fracking boom being driven by Duke Energy and other utilities – is essential to staying below the tipping point, as Cornell’s Dr. Robert Howarth emphasizes:
“The climate responds very quickly to methane, so if we reduce our methane emissions from shale gas now, we will slow the rate of global warming … in fact, that is the only way to avoid irreversible harm to the climate.”
More than 130 diverse organizations have backed the call to investigate the fraud and cover-up by EPA officials that has already wasted crucial years in slowing the climate crisis and has enhanced hazards for gas facility workers and neighbors. As we told Elkins:
“NC WARN and the 130 organizations supporting this complaint deserve an explanation of your action, and need to know that the Inspector General can be relied upon as a determined watchdog who will act courageously in the toughest cases on behalf of the public.”