(Michael Sandoval, Western Wire) Two anti-fossil fuel groups who collaborated on a report released this month alleging improper emissions from oil and gas facilities in Oklahoma admitted last week that they did not collect corresponding air testing data to support their claims.
The Coalition for Oklahoma’s Renewable Energy (CORE), with assistance from national environmental group EarthWorks, issued a report calling attention to what it claimed were multiple instances of a “invisible oil spills” at Oklahoma oil and gas production facilities using “Forward-Looking Infrared” (FLIR) cameras.
When pressed by local news media, however, a spokeswoman for EarthWorks admitted the supposed camera evidence was not backed up by air quality data or any measurements substantiating claims that any substance, including methane, the report’s targeted emission, was conclusively documented in the report.
“It is the regulator’s job to do air testing to make sure that these sites are in compliance with state and national rules,” EarthWorks representative Hilary Lewis told the Times and Free Press. “Unfortunately, neither EarthWorks nor CORE has the resources to do air testing at all the oil and gas sites we visit.”
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Lewis told the Times and Free Press that air quality tests that might quantify what the group claimed the infrared drone photography captured, such as methane or other pollutants, were not undertaken by the group in order to corroborate the assertions made in the report.
EarthWorks’ most recent Form 990 report shows receipts of just over $2.4 million for 2015.
Trisha Fanning, an air compliance specialist for Eagle Environmental Consulting, told Western Wire that it isn’t the regulator’s job to test the air, it is the industry’s task. Regulators ensure the companies are in compliance through audits, she said, and unwillingness by EarthWorks or CORE to provide any test results is indefensible when making these types of claims.
“The fact that they won’t test, there’s no defense to say what they’re saying,” Fanning said. “If they want to test and prove that it’s methane or another volatile organic compound, then do the test. Because we have to follow the lay of the law.”
Without certified technicians operating the FLIR camera or providing other technical assistance, the camera data is also not defensible, according to Fanning.
“The bottom line is that they are misleading, and they are misleading on the scare tactic,” Fanning said. “Optical gas imaging is nothing more than that, it’s imaging,” she continued, saying that individuals without proper FLIR training and the understanding of many other variables could easily misinterpret what the camera sees.
“There’s a lot that can mimic an emissions plume,” Fanning said.
Fanning, past president of the Rocky Mountain Association of Environmental Professionals with experience in Clean Air Act compliance as a third party auditor for clients in multiple industries, said that given the layering of federal, state, and local regulations, asserting that oil and gas producers were recklessly emitting any substance without adequate and substantive data would be a tough sell, given permitting and required compliance guidelines under the Clean Air Act and other rulemaking processes.
Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association (OKOGA), told Western Wire last week that “EarthWorks is using scare tactics to advance a keep-it-in-the-ground agenda” and that the report’s authors—Earthworks and CORE—“are not offering any scientific data collection from these drones to back their claims.”
The release of the report violated Oklahoma State University policy prohibiting the use of university email addresses for “political campaign, commercial or personal adverstisements,” the OSU Director of Communications told Western Wire.