Methane is the second-largest source of climate-warming emissions, but it has 25 times the potency of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Toxic chemicals released during methane leaks can create smog that aggravates asthma and cancer.
In our state alone, oil and gas producers emitted almost 13,000 metric tons of methane in 2014. As drillers in Ohio increasingly rely on hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale deposits, such leaks threaten to increase. The EPA rules — the first to address methane emissions — affect only new or upgraded wells and infrastructure. They would not cover the current operations of oil and gas wells, which represent more than two-thirds of the sources of methane pollution.
The nationwide issue is the vulnerability to leaks — both subtle and, occasionally, dramatic — of vast amounts of aging, poorly monitored and inadequately inspected gas and oil infrastructure.
Ohio’s oil and natural gas producers reported spewing more than 13,000 metric tons of industrial methane pollution and toxic chemicals into the air in 2014. These nonstop leaks, invisible to the naked eye, had the same climate impact as driving 70,000 cars for a year.
There are many types of polluting oil and gas equipment aside from wells: tanks, pumps, compressor stations, pipelines. These sources emit not just methane but also more-harmful substances, such as benzene. Emissions of other chemicals form ozone smog, which can trigger deadly asthma attacks in children and old people.
But a national problem needs a national solution. The federal government could require systematic leak detection and repair at facilities like Aliso Canyon, but so far it hasn’t taken that step. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed methane emission standards for new or heavily modified facilities, but the plan does nothing to curb emissions from existing wells and infrastructure that are the source of the problem today. The federal Transportation Department, which has jurisdiction over some facilities, is only now beginning to act.