February marks three years since the devastating explosion and blowout of a natural gas well in Belmont County, Ohio.
XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, was responsible for this tragedy. Sixty-thousand tons of methane were emitted from this incident, (more than many European countries release in an entire year), marking it as one of the worst methane leaks in U.S. history.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming as it is 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
Appalachians are no strangers to natural gas and oil wells — Eastern Ohio has 2,317 shale wells, and 495 more were permitted for drilling as of 2018. This energy source comes at a high environmental cost, however, with methane emitted as a byproduct of these processes. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide and contributes significantly to global warming. These air contaminants can also cause health implications such as dizziness, nausea, and respiratory problems.
The administration of President Joe Biden has in its first week initiated action to tackle climate change, including re-entering the Paris climate accord and revoking a vital permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline project. One of the key ways to bolster this health-protective agenda is for the federal government to take steps to reduce methane emissions from fossil fuel production, referenced near the top of the Biden executive order on climate.
As President Joe Biden looks to fulfil his commitments to address the oil and gas industry’s climate pollution, cutting the sector’s methane industry must become a key pillar of his strategy. Methane is a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, but remains in the atmosphere 12 years versus 100 years for carbon dioxide, and the fracking boom has led to a spike in levels of the gas, according to studies by the European Geosciences Union and NASA. Removing methane will provide more time to deal with longer lived climate pollutants like carbon dioxide. In order to do so, President Biden’s early steps should include using the power available to him under existing US law to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production by 65 percent within the next five years.