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Flaring of unwanted hydrocarbons at a natural gas refinery in the Piceance Basin of Colorado. Tim Hurst/ flickr

Legacy of the “Father of fracking” calls for support of methane regulation

A Texas-based foundation that is the legacy of oil icon George Mitchell has made a fundamental break in the typical energy narrative by supporting methane emission reduction.

In a statement released last week, The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation gave its support to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce methane emissions. The EPA hopes to pass ruling to cut methane by roughly 45 percent by 2025 from agriculture, landfills, and oil and gas activities combined.

“The foundation seeks to ensure that the energy, environmental, health and economic benefits of natural gas for electricity generation are captured. A critical element in achieving this goal is minimizing leakage of methane,” the statement reads.

The foundation made note that the oil and gas industry has made important progress in cutting emissions of methane already. Methane emissions in 2013 were 12 percent lower than in 2011. According to the organization, almost 75 percent of these reductions are a direct result of EPA’s “green completions” methane regulations established in 2012.

In related news, EPA proposes cutting methane emissions nearly in half by 2025.

“Voluntary programs led by innovative companies also play an important role in demonstrating cost-effective methane control technologies,” stated the foundation. “Voluntary programs are another element in EPA’s overall methane strategy.”

According to a FuelFix report, The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has funded research on methane emissions, and one of its four main grant-making programs is in “shale sustainability.” The initiative aims to support work that increases the sustainability of extracting oil and gas from dense shale rock formations.

When it comes to public policy critique, the philanthropic organization is usually quiet. However, Marilu Hastings, vice president of the foundation’s sustainability program, said the issue was so important that leaders of the philanthropy felt it had to make a public statement.

The statement reflects Mitchell’s belief that energy companies always have to “take it one step above,” and “operators have to push technology beyond where we are now,” Hastings said.

As noted by FuelFix, Mitchell, who died in 2013, pioneered the combined use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in North Texas’ Barnett shale, helping give birth to a domestic energy renaissance. Late in life, he devoted some of his wealth to scientific research and conservation.

“He wanted to capture the full environmental, economic, health and national security benefits of natural gas as a fuel to produce power but (believed) it has to be produced in a responsible, prudent manner,” Hastings said. “And one of the ways we do that so it is a fuel that really has the environmental benefits that we want it to have is to manage methane responsibly.”

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