Last week, two environmental organizations, both critical of fossil fuels, acknowledged that they did not gather corresponding air testing data to substantiate their allegations of improper emissions from oil and gas facilities in Oklahoma, despite collaborating on a report released earlier this month.
The Coalition for Oklahoma’s Renewable Energy (CORE), aided by the national environmental organization EarthWorks, published a report highlighting alleged occurrences of “invisible oil spills” at Oklahoma oil and gas production sites through the use of “Forward-Looking Infrared” (FLIR) cameras.
When questioned by local news media, a representative from EarthWorks conceded that the purported evidence from the cameras lacked support from air quality data or any measurements confirming the claims made in the report, particularly regarding the targeted emission of methane.
EarthWorks representative Hilary Lewis stated to the Times and Free Press that it is the responsibility of regulators to conduct air testing to ensure compliance with state and national regulations at these sites. She expressed regret that neither EarthWorks nor CORE has the financial resources to conduct air testing at all the oil and gas sites they visit.
Lewis informed the Times and Free Press that the group did not conduct air quality tests to quantify substances like methane or other pollutants, which the infrared drone photography purportedly captured, in order to validate the claims outlined in the report.
EarthWorks’ latest Form 990 report indicates receipts totaling slightly more than $2.4 million for the year 2015.
Trisha Fanning, an air compliance specialist at Eagle Environmental Consulting, explained to Western Wire that it’s the responsibility of the industry, not regulators, to conduct air testing. She mentioned that regulators ensure companies comply with regulations through audits. Fanning criticized EarthWorks or CORE for their failure to provide any test results, deeming it unacceptable when making such 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.”
Fanning also pointed out that without certified technicians operating the FLIR camera or offering technical support, the reliability of the camera data is compromised.
Fanning concluded that the groups’ actions are deceptive and rely on fear tactics. She explained that optical gas imaging, such as FLIR, solely provides visual representations and can be misinterpreted by individuals lacking proper training and understanding of various factors.
“There’s a lot that can mimic an emissions plume,” Fanning said.
Fanning, who served as past president of the Rocky Mountain Association of Environmental Professionals and possesses expertise in Clean Air Act compliance as a third-party auditor for clients across various industries, highlighted the complexity of regulatory frameworks at the federal, state, and local levels. She argued that claiming oil and gas producers are negligently emitting substances without substantial evidence would be difficult, considering the stringent permitting and compliance guidelines mandated by the Clean Air Act and other regulatory processes.
Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association (OKOGA), expressed to Western Wire that EarthWorks employs scare tactics to promote a “keep-it-in-the-ground” agenda. He noted that the authors of the report, EarthWorks and CORE, fail to provide any scientific data collected from these drones to support their claims.
The Director of Communications at Oklahoma State University informed Western Wire that the release of the report breached university policy, which prohibits the utilization of university email addresses for political campaigns, commercial endeavors, or personal advertisements.