Letter from NC WARN to EPA’s Inspector General. The whistleblower was right, and the cover-up continues. This scandal goes to the core of the vast expansion of fracked gas by Duke Energy and other utilities.
May 8th, 2018
Arthur J. Elkins, Jr.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Inspector General
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (2431T)
Washington, DC 20460
Subject: Your report confirms whistleblower complaint regarding methane emissions and scientific fraud, but your conclusion is disconnected from the narrative
Dear Inspector General Elkins:
We find major flaws with your report No. 18-P-0129 dated March 16, 2018, which was prepared in response to our complaint from June 8, 2016. NC WARN had requested an investigation of fraud, waste and abuse by a high-ranking EPA official that led to severe underreporting of methane venting and leakage throughout the US natural gas industry, and to a lack of corrective action despite methane’s prominence in the accelerating climate crisis. The complaint can be found at https://www.ncwarn.org/epa-oig-complaint/.
Ironically, the narrative of your report seems to confirm our charges, as indicated by three core findings:
- The Bacharach Hi Flow Sampler was known to malfunction – leading to underreporting of methane emissions – by many people including EPA officials;
- David Allen, then-chair of EPA’s Science Advisory Board, ignored the malfunctions and published his 2013 and 2014 studies anyway, then kept claiming data from the sampler was valid.
- Allen’s studies were rejected for official use by the EPA due to credibility problems even as they continue to be touted by the gas industry as showing that methane emissions are low.
BROKEN EQUIPMENT, BROKEN PROCESS
Your narrative was correct, but gaps in that narrative preceded an illogical conclusion that there was no wrongdoing by the EPA. Your narrative also fully validates the long-running concerns by our whistleblower, engineer Touche Howard – the inventor of the Hi Flow Sampler technology – who has refused all these years to back down from the truth despite efforts to discredit and silence him amid this continuing obfuscation by the regulator and the regulated.
The report of your investigation is replete with evidence from various sources confirming one of our key charges, that the Hi Flow Sampler, a measuring device central to the Allen 2013 and 2014 studies, malfunctioned numerous times both before and during those studies. Those problems were apparently sufficiently severe that EPA chose not to officially use the Allen data in updating its Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
Although you did not specify the reason EPA did not use the Allen data – a serious gap in an otherwise linear report – it seems clear that the reason was that the Allen data were deemed not to be credible due to the ongoing emergence of concerns about failure of the Hi Flow Sampler. From the outset, the Allen 2013 and 2014 studies had been designed to contribute strongly to the GHG Inventory amid growing concerns about methane emissions from the gas industry. Under the EPA guidelines described in your report, such studies normally would have been heavily relied upon by the EPA. In fact, the EPA did choose to use three other studies for the GHG Inventory that were part of the Environmental Defense Fund series of studies, as were Allen 2013 and 2014.
Ironically, your conclusion that no corrective action is required by your office is based on the Allen 2013 and 2014 data not being officially relied upon in the GHG Inventory or the GHG Reporting Program.
You even went to the extent of spelling out in detail how continuing problems with the Hi Flow Sampler forced EPA to:
- develop an “augmented (work-around) approach for using the device for field measurements.”
- “[attempt] to develop a new high-volume sampler for internal agency use” … because
- “the manufacturer [Bacharach Inc.] is no longer producing the Hi Flow Sampler”
It appears that Bacharach Inc. discontinued sales of the Hi Flow Sampler (HFS) due to exposure of the multiple failures – not lack of market interest – especially since you noted that “there are currently no high-volume samplers commercially available …” and that the EPA hopes “to improve on the design of the HFS to eliminate any potential malfunction problems.”
Your report is fatally flawed as it made no mention that Bacharach had admitted that the sampler suffered from sensor failure, that it later provided a software update and an update to its user manual providing instruction on how to best avoid such problems. (It is unclear whether Bacharach Inc. is still able to service and support the sampler in the field.)
Despite all this, your report somehow determined that there is “no conclusive evidence” of malfunction even as you explain that the device can no longer be relied upon. EPA does not have clean hands in this matter. Meanwhile, the Bacharach HFS remains in wide use by industries for GHG reporting to the EPA. In fact, it remains the primary instrument used for such measurements.
SCIENTIFIC FRAUD IGNORED
Possibly even more important is that your report entirely ignored the questions NC WARN raised regarding scientific fraud by Dr. Allen and possibly others. Following the filing of our complaint, Dr. Allen and others kept contending publicly that there was no problem with the sampler. He even told your investigators that he “has seen no evidence of the sensor failures” even though, as you reported in the same sentence, “one of his Hi Flow Samplers shut down during field testing that was conducted after the 2013 study.”
It’s surprising that you would accept Allen’s word even as you cite evidence that contradicts him, evidence also supported in the email record we provided in our complaint.
Dr. Allen was made aware of the sensor failures during the 2014 study and never notified the EPA of the underreported methane emissions in the studies. Engineer Touché Howard made multiple attempts to help Dr. Allen and his team address the underreporting sensors before publication of the 2014 study, and even went into the field with the team to test the sensors.
The OIG report fails to address a central overarching problem: Since 2013, the natural gas and electric power industries have used the Allen studies to assert that leakage and venting of methane from throughout the supply chain is too low to cause concern. Just one example is a Forbes article lauding the attention to the issue by the news media. Furthermore, the two Allen studies are still being relied upon by scientists, researchers and policy makers in the US and abroad.
NATIONAL ACADEMY SLIPS INTO THE MIRE
In March, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published an in-depth report, Improving Characterization of Anthropogenic Methane Emissions in the United States, regarding the overall efforts being made to measure methane emissions. The report was co-sponsored by the EPA, and the agency’s Melissa Weiss – who has been in the middle of the Hi Flow Sampler controversy for years – was EPA’s primary representative for the NAS report.
NAS indeed cites Allen 2013 and 2014 and indicates the potential for their later use. But amid this well-referenced report, there is a very odd exclusion of any mention of the Hi Flow Sampler or the ongoing controversy about it. The sampler was described, because it remains the primary instrument for measuring emissions, but not by name nor by manufacturer. This is particularly odd since David Allen is a co-author of the report and because of Ms. Weiss’ direct involvement.
There is a clear lack of integrity when scientists do not disclose serious problems with the measuring device used to collect the data in their studies, especially as they realize that the results are being widely reported and relied upon to estimate the role of methane emissions in the accelerating climate crisis.
Finally, your report makes no mention of NC WARN being the organization that brought the complaint, nor makes any reference to the full complaint. We request that the original complaint submitted by NC WARN be made publicly available and that the OIG’s report provide a link to the complaint and this letter in order to correct the record.
In addition, we call on you to publish the specific reasons that the agency chose not to use the data presented in the two Allen studies, and to address the problems raised in this letter.
We are concerned that the EPA’s involvement in this years-long cover-up is continuing,