The bottom line of the NASA study is that 25 points of emission – gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants – are responsible for about one-fourth of all the methane leaking into the atmosphere over the Four Corners.
And the point of a new Environmental Protection Agency rule, forthcoming Bureau of Land Management regulations and the NASA study is not to shut down oil and gas production, but to monitor equipment and mend leaks that likely hurt industry bottom lines as much as the environment.
We applaud the BLM and EPA for taking action, and LPEA for taking a step forward on a project that makes good economic and environmental sense, Though a step in the right direction, we do need a comprehensive approach to resolve some of our toughest air, land and water quality issues so, as with the Gold King mine spill, the public is not left footing the bill.
Canada, Mexico and the U.S. agreed to reduce the escape of oil and gas-generated methane by 45 percent by 2025. They also pledged that half of their energy would be generated from clean sources and to phase out government fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
Finally, the RRC supports enhanced development and economic vitality for the benefit of Texans. In the last election, the commissioners took in more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry — the same industry they are charged with regulating. By suing EPA over beneficial, cost-effective methane regulations, it’s hard to see how the commissioners believe in economic vitality for the benefit of all Texans. It does seem clear they support the enhanced economic vitality of the industry and their own campaign coffers.
In fact, Colorado’s experience suggests the EPA could have gone further, since this state’s methane rules are stronger in two respects. First, Colorado’s rules affect both new and existing facilities (EPA plans to address existing facilities in future rule-making). Second, the state has a tiered system in which most wells are inspected quarterly with some as often as once a month, depending on how much they produce.
The rules over the last two years are working,” said Dan Grossman, the Rockie Mountain regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “They’re proven. Companies are complying and methane pollution is being reduced.” And the EPA rules are only in place for new facilities. The organization is still working on a plan to handle existing facilities. In Colorado, the rules address both new installations and structures that already exist. We like the fact that Colorado is leading the way in keeping businesses productive while keeping a close eye on the environment.
But reducing methane emissions is key as it traps heat at a rate 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. Reducing human methane emissions could buy valuable time in the global effort to reduce human carbon dioxide emissions. Methane is a byproduct of oil production — and a pollutant that has environmental and health impacts. Proper handling of it should be viewed as the cost of normal business practice.
Colorado’s rules arose from recommendations of both environmentalists and producers. Capturing methane carries a certain cost. BLM leak detection and repair provisions would be offset by more gas into gas lines and more royalties paid to state coffers. It’s a net positive impact for all parties.
These rules will be increasingly important as industry continues to make new discoveries using the controversial technology that has made the natural gas boom possible, known as hydraulic fracturing. What the rules do not do is cover the multitude of existing oil and gas wells, which as of now account for the vast bulk of methane emissions. The administration has promised to develop such rules in the months ahead; without them there is no chance that Mr. Obama’s goals can be met.
Now, the EPA has followed up with a long-anticipated national rule that aims to reduce the industry’s methane emissions to 40 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 — by 510,000 tons a year, the amount of methane produced by about 10 coal-fueled power plants. The reductions can be achieved with existing technology. That will result in additional costs, but also in the industry having much more methane to sell. This is a case in which the country can have the benefits of a strong gas industry and of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. State and federal governments should make the rule work with strong monitoring and enforcement.