Senators call for crack down on “certified” gas greenwashing

February 12, 2024


Gas Leaks


Today a group of Senators led by Ed Markey urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on the fossil fuel industry’s marketing of “certified” natural gas — an increasingly popular but completely unregulated concept that claims to produce gas with lower methane emissions.

Markey joined Senators Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal in asking FTC Chair Lina Kahn to include “certified” gas in an upcoming update to the agency’s Green Guides, which provide guidance on how companies can advertise the environmental sustainability of their products.

“Gas producers sometimes publicly describe their product as ‘certified,’ ‘responsible,’ or ‘differentiated’ and market it as a climate-friendly fossil fuel. But too often these green claims are false or misleading, as the methodology underlying them is opaque, the technology supporting them is unreliable, and the downstream climate effects of gas combustion are ignored,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “This greenwashing scheme demands an FTC investigation and the express inclusion of guidance for third-party natural gas certification regimes in revised FTC Green Guides. These steps will help prevent gas producers and certification companies from misleading and ripping off consumers, harming the environment, and hindering progress on climate change.” 


What is “certified” methane gas?

Recent attention on runaway methane pollution from the oil and gas industry has spawned a new industry of monitoring companies claiming to “certify” that producers are reducing methane emissions from their fracking wells, pipelines and storage facilities. Recent investigations by Earthworks and Oil Change International revealed that at least one of the major gas certification companies was missing major methane pollution events, raising questions about the effectiveness of the company’s monitoring programs.

Also known as “differentiated” gas or “responsibly sourced” gas, these programs mislead the public into thinking that the “natural” gas system is clean energy, despite its unavoidable impacts to climate, public health and communities who live near fracking sites, pipelines and gas export facilities. With nearly 1.7 million fracking wells, 3 million miles of gas pipelines and hundreds of underground gas storage facilities across the country, accurately tracking methane pollution from the gas system is nearly impossible.

Gas primarily consists of methane, which warms the atmosphere more than 80 times as much as carbon dioxide. Studies show even as little as 0.2% of methane leaking from the gas system can make the climate impact of gas on par with coal power. The Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimate of methane leakage, based on industry’s self-reported numbers, is 1.4%, but independent studies have documented rates closer to 3.7% or even 9% in the Permian Basin.

Government blessing for “certified” gas greenwashing?

Last summer the Department of Energy (DOE) backed off of plans to set a standard for what qualifies as “certified” gas last summer after the Gas Leaks Project, Earthworks, Oil Change International, Climate Nexus and more than 150 other groups raised concerns that it would amount to a government blessing for gas greenwashing and distract from the need to move to clean electricity. 

Despite that, reporting from COP28 indicates that DOE and the Department of State were discussing the development of “international standards that will give low-methane gas preferential access to the European Union market.” Methane pollution from the gas system will be a huge topic of discussion in the coming months given the administration’s recent decision to pause new permits for liquified gas export facilities and reexamine whether gas exports are in the public interest, including the full climate impact of methane pollution.

Public paying for greenwashed gas

Despite the huge questions about the validity of gas certification programs, millions of Americans are already paying more for it in their monthly bills. Research from the Revolving Door Project has found many of examples of utilities paying a premium for “certified” gas and passing the costs on to customers, including Virginia Natural Gas, New Jersey Natural Gas and Con Edison in New York. 

Xcel Energy in Colorado recently backed off plans to use “certified” gas to meet its emissions reduction goals following pressure from local community advocates, but is still seeking to charge its customers more for it. Other utilities that have purchased “certified” gas contracts include Chattanooga Gas, Washington Gas and Dominion Energy.


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