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By Kenny Stancil

The rapidly growing gas certification industry claims to accurately measure methane pollution and verify lower emissions from fracking operations.

But according to Earthworks and Oil Change International, so-called “certified gas” programs — an emerging frontier in the effort to greenwash fossil fuel production — are “likely highly unreliable and ineffective, resulting in increased threats to health and climate.”

Certified Disaster: How Project Canary & Gas Certification are Misleading Gas Markets & Governments,” a report the two groups published Monday, exposes “on-the-ground failures” to detect methane pollution by Project Canary — one of the largest certifiers of fracked gas in the U.S. — and implores policymakers to “avoid these follies and shift their time and energy toward facilitating a safe, managed decline in the production, distribution, and use of fossil fuels.”

Given that methane traps 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere, emissions of the potent greenhouse gas must be slashed substantially this decade to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis.

The fossil fuel industry is the leading source of global methane pollution.

In an attempt to justify continued fossil fuel expansion despite mounting scientific evidence of the need to urgently phase out coal, oil and gas extraction, the industry is pushing to label fracked gas as “responsibly sourced,” which means less polluting.

To this end, fossil fuel producers are “increasingly hiring companies like Project Canary to certify their operations as meeting a certain standard,” Earthworks and Oil Change International explained.

Earthworks and Oil Change International continued:

“While no standards exist for the certification process, companies are racing ahead to charge a premium for certified gas and secure contracts and expand markets for a greenwashed product.”

“Project Canary’s marketing aggressively positions its certification services as a conduit to a ‘net-zero’ emissions world,” the report notes.

The Colorado-based firm’s CEO, Chris Romer, “has openly discussed fixing the gas industry’s ‘brand problem,’” admitting that “Project Canary’s ‘goal’ is to allow the oil and gas industry to maintain ‘a social license to operate’ and that ‘clean’ certified carbon will allow the industry to operate ‘for many decades to come.’”

“We are going to be able to solve climate change with measurement,” Romer asserted last year. And yet, as the report points out, “Project Canary monitors consistently fail to detect pollution events.”

During a seven-month field investigation (May-November 2022) of 30 different oil and gas production sites along Colorado’s Front Range where Project Canary and similar monitors are installed, Earthworks’ trained thermographers recorded 22 significant pollution events using Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) cameras capable of detecting emissions invisible to the naked eye.

None of the 22 OGI-documented pollution events were detected by the Continuous Emissions Monitors used by Project Canary and other companies.

The video below shows how Project Canary and similar monitoring technologies fail to detect methane pollution.

“How can Project Canary measure and certify methane emissions if it can’t even detect them?” the video asks.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Lack of transparency: Despite claims of ‘radical transparency’ and third-party verification, there is limited access for regulators, academics or the public to confirm data generated in the certification process.
  • Conflicts of interest: Evidence suggests that a key Project Canary director and advisory board members have direct financial investments in the same gas companies it certifies.

“History shows us that global problems attract snake oil salesmen, trying to make money pawning off false solutions,” report co-author Josh Eisenfeld, corporate accountability campaign manager at Earthworks, said in a statement.

“We cannot afford to put support behind the next Theranos of climate solutions.”

“Over and over again we found that the monitors Project Canary uses to certify gas were failing to detect significant pollution events in the field, the very pollution that they claim to be monitoring,” said Eisenfeld.

Eisenfeld continues:

“What we found in the field is just further evidence of what we have been hearing from industry insiders: Gas certification is unproven, unregulated nonsense.”

Earthworks and Oil Change International call for “federal oversight for gas certification programs that ensure the protection of communities and the accuracy of emissions reductions.”

In addition, they demand “greater transparency and accountability for gas certification and a verifiable commitment to transition away from methane gas to truly clean and renewable energy sources in line with climate science.”

As the groups note:

“The report comes just as the European Parliament considers methane regulations requiring fossil fuel imports into the E.U., such as U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG), to meet emissions criteria.

“This report makes clear that current efforts by U.S. gas producers and exporters to quantify and report the emissions associated with their cargoes cannot be trusted.

“It is imperative that the E.U. and other importers adopt the recommendations in this report as minimum criteria for documentation of methane emissions associated with gas imports.”

Last year, the U.S. became the world’s top exporter of LNG, which is methane gas that has been chilled and liquefied after being extracted through fracking or conventional drilling.

Ahead of last week’s G7 meeting, climate justice advocates told the Biden administration, which has helped Big Oil secure dozens of long-term fracked gas export contracts amid Russia’s war on Ukraine, that “the global LNG boom must be stopped in its tracks” — a demand that went ignored.

On Monday, Lorne Stockman, co-director of research at Oil Change International and co-author of the new report, warned that “certified gas is being used to greenwash U.S. gas and LNG, creating a false narrative that expanded use of methane gas plays a role in the energy transition.”

“This is simply not true,” said Stockman. “Our report shows that Project Canary is misleading the public and investors about the true impacts of methane gas and must be held accountable.”

“It’s time,” he added, “to end the greenwashing of gas and focus on genuine climate solutions such as energy efficiency, electrification, and renewable energy.”

Originally published by Common Dreams.

Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.