methane flare

A methane flare is seen at Pawnee National Grasslands.

(Photo: WildEarth Guardians/flickr/cc)

New Report Debunks Industry-Backed Greenwashing Scam of 'Certified Gas'

"Hundreds of hours of on-the-ground research has made it more clear than ever that certifiers are not living up to their claims," one report author said.

Methane emissions monitors operated by third-party gas certification companies only picked up one of the 23 pollution events detected by anti-extraction group Earthworks.

That's one of the findings in Certified Gaslighting, a report published by Earthworks and Oil Change International on Tuesday that reveals how fossil fuel companies are increasingly turning to private gas certification companies to prove that they are reducing their methane emissions.

The evidence indicates that the "certified gas" label is just another industry smokescreen thrown up by climate arsonists to shield themselves from public pressure.

"'Certified' gas is the industry's latest effort at greenwashing, not an earnest effort at halting the accelerating climate crisis," Dakota Raynes, report author and Earthworks research and policy manager, said in a statement. "Hundreds of hours of on-the-ground research has made it more clear than ever that certifiers are not living up to their claims."

"If we want to stop rising methane emissions, then we must stop the gas certification farce."

For the report, Earthworks carried out 81 surveys at 38 oil and gas sites in Colorado over the course of 10 months in 2023, reviewing both pollution levels and the continuous emissions monitors (CEMS) designed to detect it. While Earthworks detected pollution events during a quarter of its site visits, the CEMs only caught one.

What's more, Earthworks looked at the monitors operated by Project Canary, one of the leading gas-certification companies. The environmental group found that the company's monitors, advertised as "continuous," were actually offline more than 25% of the time.

"Fossil fuel companies are scrambling to maintain relevance amid mounting pressure from communities and climate advocates, so they resort to third-party 'certification' schemes as a last-ditch effort to portray their operations as 'clean,'" Oil Change International research director Lorne Stockman said in a statement. "Our research reveals these certification scams are deceptive, enabling gas companies to expand under the false pretense of emission reductions. This greenwashing scam must end so we can focus on what's urgently needed—phasing out oil and gas."

Tuesday's report builds on a growing body of evidence that "gas certification" is another trick from what Raynes described as the "industry's grab bag of dangerous distractions." While private companies certify almost 40% of U.S. gas, the nation's oil and gas sector emits more methane than any other country's. In 2023, it released 13.8 million metric tons, translating to almost 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent or the emissions of 301 coal plants, according to International Energy Agency figures. Globally, the oil and gas industry spewed more than 79.5 million metric tons of methane last year.

The report also follows previous research from Earthworks and Oil Change, which found that Project Canary monitors failed to detect every pollution event picked up by Earthworks' Optical Gas Imaging cameras.

The fact that the monitors only picked up one Earthworks-detected event a year later "suggests that operators have made minimal changes to monitoring efforts to account for the findings in our report," the authors of Tuesday's report wrote.

The latest report also points out what it terms a "dangerous loophole": The companies are not required by Colorado law or by certification standards to address pollution events that occur due to normal operations as opposed to malfunctions. Yet most of the events detected by Earthworks were part of normal operations.

"These emissions are no less harmful to communities exposed to the pollution nor less impactful with respect to the climate crisis," the authors wrote.

Despite the many problems with the gas-certification process, the industry is rushing to adopt it as the U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Treasury Department are considering incorporating it into regulations. Some public utilities are also buying certified gas and then charging customers more to deliver it as they claim to make progress on climate goals.

"As they have for decades, the fossil fuel industry is deliberately lying, manipulating, and gaslighting the public," Leah Qusba, executive director for Action for the Climate Emergency, said in a statement. "Before 'certified gas' there was 'next-gen gas,' before that there was 'natural gas,' and before that there was the myth of 'clean coal.' All these fancy terms to hide the truth: Fossil fuels are deadly, and they're stealing our future."

In response to their findings, the report authors recommended that methane-reduction efforts should be carried out under government overview and within a regulatory framework that prioritizes the well-being of communities and consumers. Further, they advised that regulators should not include certification schemes as part of their efforts and that CEMs should be used transparently and in accordance with peer-reviewed best practices and with all of their data made publicly available.

"It's no surprise that the same industry that has spent decades marketing gas as 'safe,' 'clean,' and 'natural' is now looking for new ways to greenwash its product," said Gas Leaks Project executive director James Hadgis. "Third-party gas certification schemes are unable, or unwilling, to capture emissions events that intensify the climate crisis while poisoning nearby communities. If we want to stop rising methane emissions, then we must stop the gas certification farce."

Moreover, the report emphasizes that, while important, simply reducing oil-and-gas methane emissions is not enough. The government must encourage and facilitate a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels.

This includes resisting the industry push to increase the production and export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG has emerged as a major front in the battle to combat the climate emergency, as the Biden administration has announced a pause on export approvals to assess their impact on the climate and consumers, even as fossil fuel companies and allied politicians protest.

"LNG exports are a certified disaster. No amount of greenwashing changes the fact that continuing to expand fossil fuels will perpetuate harms to our climate and the communities in the path of the fracking industry's drilling pads, pipelines, and export facilities," Jim Walsh, the policy director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action, said in a statement.

"We continue to see major fossil fuel companies move forward plans to increase exports of fracked gas, despite the limited pause on new export approvals," Walsh continued. "The health of our communities and the planet depends on President Biden rejecting these misleading industry certification schemes and starting a real and robust effort to phase out fossil fuels."

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