Most unwelcome news for the one-track-minded, fossil-fuels-must-die green lobby — and from their usually zealous allies at the EPA, no less — but pretty sweet news for anyone who actually cares about the environment and isn’t especially interested in scaremongering everybody into a big crunchy panic resulting in still more big government dictates that endorse economic slowdown as the solution to environmental problems.

One of the organized environmental movement’s biggest arguments against natural gas is that the release of methane, natural gas’s main component, into the air during the production and delivery process is an even more dangerous and potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Therefore, these so-called environmentalists claim that on natural gas production’s net evaluation, it is probably way worse for the planet and climate change than its advocates will admit.

Which is why natural-gas opponents aren’t going to be pleased with the EPA’s new report that includes a dramatic downward revision in their estimate of how much heat-trapping methane is released during gas production. Bazinga, via the AP:

The new EPA data is “kind of an earthquake” in the debate over drilling, said Michael Shellenberger, the president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental group based in Oakland, Calif. “This is great news for anybody concerned about the climate and strong proof that existing technologies can be deployed to reduce methane leaks.”

The scope of the EPA’s revision was vast. In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions, the agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That’s about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. …

The EPA revisions came even though natural gas production has grown by nearly 40 percent since 1990. The industry has boomed in recent years, thanks to a stunning expansion of drilling in previously untapped areas because of the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects sand, water and chemicals to break apart rock and free the gas inside.

Experts on both sides of the debate say the leaks can be controlled by fixes such as better gaskets, maintenance and monitoring. …

Yes, the EPA is exceedingly fond of attributing any environmental improvements as the direct results of their policies and regulations, but let’s be real here and not overlook the overarching role of the free market in inspiring increased efficiency, innovation, and improved technology. In this case, producers are already plenty incentivized to keep trying to prevent leakages, since methane leaked into the atmosphere means waste and lost profits  — and as the AP mentions, industry experts think that there’s ample and imminent room for still further innovation and improvement.

Of course, that’s not enough for the self-anointed defenders of the atmospheric realm:

One leading environmentalist argued the EPA revisions don’t change the bigger picture.

“We need a dramatic shift off carbon-based fuel: coal, oil and also gas,” Bill McKibbern, the founder of 350.org, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Natural gas provides at best a kind of fad diet, where a dangerously overweight patient loses a few pounds and then their weight stabilizes; instead, we need at this point a crash diet, difficult to do” but needed to limit the damage from climate change.

Firstly, I would merely point out that seems like a poor analogy, since I’m pretty sure everybody knows that crash diets are not included in the makings of a long-term solution for weight loss; and secondly, good grief, these greens just don’t know how to take yes for an answer. Natural gas is the main factor responsible for our lately reduced carbon emissions, and yet their suggestions for a realistic energy policy seem to amount to “Solar, wind, and algae power OR BUST!” Not super helpful, guys.